Saturday, January 31, 2009

Book Review: Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

Book: Living Dead Girl
Author: Elizabeth Scott
Published: 2008

Once upon a time, she had a mother and a father and she didn’t belong to Ray. Once upon a time, she was allowed to eat as much as she wanted, go to school, and speak to people. Once upon a time, she slept alone.

Once upon a time, she was not Alice.

Now she is.

She’s been Alice for five long years. Too long. She’s getting too tall, too heavy, too old for Ray. Now he wants a replacement. And Alice has to find her.

I read this book all in one go, and afterwards, I literally wandered around the house in a daze, weeping, until I sat down to write this review. This is not an easy book. This is the kind of book nobody should ever have to read because things like this wouldn’t happen. In saying that, I’m guilty of one of the things that Alice mentions over and over again. Ray has always gotten away with it because people look at her and don’t want to see what they see, because they don’t want it to be something that happens right next door.

I’m probably not making a whole lot of sense. I’m still half in that daze. What Elizabeth Scott does in this novel is take you deep inside the skin of a girl who’s been abused in so many different ways--sexually, physically, emotionally--that she’s been broken down into little more than a survival instinct. There’s nothing left but the will to escape. Not to live, to escape. She fully participates, even pursues, Ray’s plan of replacing her because she knows it will set her free, one way or the other. Where we want her to stand up and say, “No, no other little girl will endure what I did!” she doesn’t, because she’s long past the point where she can afford to care about anybody else. Along with every other vestige of humanity, that capability has crumbled to dust under the onslaught of the past five years.

I won’t spoil the end, but I will say that while many may be disappointed or angry at how it turns out, I think it’s the only way things could have happened for Alice. You’ll remember Living Dead Girl for a long, long time.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Glee #1

I come across so many neat little anecdotes and tidbits from the world of kidlit--from news, from other bloggers--that I find myself doing mini-posts that are really nothing more than a link and some sort of comment, often snarky. So this week, I'm experimenting with a collective post.
  • Daphne over at The Longstockings relates what happened when, during a Q&A session at her old high school, a teacher basically asked her when she was going to start writing real books and leave the kidlit behind. It will make you happy in your heart. Thanks to Lisa Chellman's blog for pointing the way.
  • More proof that villains have all the fun: Narnia's White Witch and Peter Pan's Captain Hook were named the scariest bad guys in children's literature in a British survey by Penguin books. They polled adults, so it's weighted toward classic baddies, but He Who Must Not Be Named did make the list.
  • Confession time: I'm not a fan of James Patterson's novels. But I might be a fan of his website, ReadKiddoRead. It includes booklists broken down by age, author interviews, and a community area for parents. Good show, Patterson. Thanks to Cheryl Rainfield for the link.
  • In the I-Laughed-Myself-Into-Hiccups category: I couldn't tell which girl this Twilight doll was supposed to be. Finally, I just clicked through--and found out it was Edward. Pattinson, you might want to have a discussion with those marketing guys. Go see the rest, but make sure you don't have anything in your mouth when you do. Bookshelves of Doom, natch.
  • I'm soooo tempted not to say anything about this, but I will. Readergirlz is giving away 25 sets of Ellen Emerson White's The President's Daughter quartet. Yeah, I said 25. Yowza. Drop on by and enter your bad self. Thanks again to Bookshelves of Doom.
  • David Lubar is being his usual serious and humorless self, and offering an extremely valuable service to 99.99% of children's and YA authors during this awards season. Go see what it is.
  • One of the most neato-keen covers of the year was Ingrid Law's Savvy, with its blazing sunset reflecting off swirling clouds. Turns out Mother Nature was there first. Drop on by the Astronomy Picture of the Day for a surprisingly familiar photo and a scientific-like explanation.
Okay, what do you think? Should I bundle together, like a cable company? Or go back to mini-posts?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

More Narnia Movie News

Well, dahlings, the last we heard, Disney had pulled out of the Narnia franchise for lack of the green stuff, and it was as simple as that. But Tasha Saecker of Kids Lit alerted me to a highly interesting article about the factors that led to the decision, including a pretty nasty-sounding squabble with the owner of Walden media, one Phil Anschutz, who also seems to own at least some of every other industry on the stock exchange.

Sigh. Just when you thought this biz was all about good books and nice people.

The article notes that there will be a "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" movie, just not distributed by Disney. Keep your ears out for more news.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sara Zarr Thinks She Might Have Issues

Eh, who doesn't.

Sara Zarr shares her (possible) issues in an essay over at about the themes that regularly show up in her work. She's not alone, either--many authors revisit the same themes and archetypes over and over again.
Some put it this way: each writer is dealt one hand of cards, and throughout our careers we're playing that one hand in different ways.
Of course, writing the same themes over and over again is not the same thing as replicating the same book over and over again. Although that's been done too.

Authors can (and have) taken radical departures from their established norms. For instance, while I knew what Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl was about, I wasn't expecting the experience I got. (Review coming as soon as I can form a coherent thought.) Partly this was because I'd read Bloom and Perfect You and was expecting something closer to that.

But then again, Living Dead Girl did have some very basic similarities to Scott's other work. Not in style, not in subject, but right down in the basic DNA of the story. It was about a girl whose life is a mess and keeps getting messier. Finally, it become so bad she has to decide what the right thing is for herself and for the people that her actions affect.

Overly simplistic? Probably. Maybe boiled down a little too far. But maybe not. There's only so many stories in the world. The details are just around the edges.

Don't be too concerned, Sara. I'd read your sci-fi novel.

Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom for the link.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Awards Reactions

Since it's had about a day to sink in, here's what I think of the choices of YA and children's lit winners this year.

If I had to apply an adjective to this year's crop of winners, I would call it unsurprising. I'm happy for the winners, I can see why they won. Of the books on the list that I read, not one made me roll my eyes and go, "Come on!" At the same time, there was nothing that made my mouth drop open.

Newbery: The Graveyard Book's been chattered about on blogs and listservs since before the street date, and reportedly snags a lot of kids upon first reading. (That first page--woo!) I do have to wonder whether all the brouhaha about kid-friendly award winners influenced this choice. Don't jump on me--I think it's a well-written book and that it did deserve the award. But this was a good year for books, and to me The Graveyard Book didn't stand out that much from the other high-quality books out there. Of course, I don't have a particular one to offer in its place.

Printz: Haven't read Jellicoe Road yet, although this is another that I heard a lot of chatter about. I'm excited by the honors, especially for Terry Pratchett and E. Lockhart. Octavian Nothing II and Tender Morsels are the kind of books people give awards to.

Morris: I really like the idea of this freshman award, bringing attention to hot new authors in an exploding genre. If half what I've heard about A Curse as Dark as Gold is true, it's well deserved. I wish Graceling had taken it, but that's because I loved that book like whoa and damn and sit down dear, you're scaring the children.

Coretta Scott King: I'm delighted that We Are the Ship did a twofer: the award for writing and an honor for illustration. This isn't all that uncommon in more specialized awards (see the Pura Belpre, for instance), but it was well-deserved. Another blog (sorry, I don't remember which one) pointed out that it probably wouldn't get a Caldecott nod because the text and pictures aren't as interwoven as in the absolute best picture books. True, but taken separately, they're high quality.

Pura Belpre: As a Hispanic woman, I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't read any of the winners or honorees. Best I can tell you is that I've had Just in Case on my reading list for a year now, waiting for the library to order it.

Drop by Kid Tested, Librarian Approved for my take on the picture book and early reader winners.

Monday, January 26, 2009

ALA Youth Media Awards!

Whee! The most exciting day of the year if you happen to be a gigantic kidlit dork like me . . . and I had to work through the webcast. Blah.

Anyway, chickies, here they are! As always, the (H) signifies an honor.

The Big Three

The John Newbery Medal (for the best children's novel of the year)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
(H) The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
(H) The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle
(H) Savvy by Ingrid Law
(H) After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

The Randolph Caldecott Medal (for the best picture book of the year)
The House in the Night illustrated by Beth Krommes and written by Susan Marie Swanson
(H) A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee
(H) How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz
(H) A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams illustrated by Melissa Sweet and written by Jen Bryant

The Michael L. Printz Award (for the best YA novel of the year)
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
(H) The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson
(H) Nation by Terry Pratchett
(H) Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, The by E. Lockhart
(H) Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

The Rest of Them, Which Are Very Nice Too

The Alex Awards (for ten adult books with teen appeal)
City of Thieves by David Benioff
The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick
Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
Just After Sunset: Stories by Stephen King
Mudboundby Hillary Jordan
Over and Under by Todd Tucker
Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow
Three Girls and Their Brother: A Novel by Theresa Rebeck

The Andrew Carnegie Medal (for excellence in children's video)
Paul R. Gagne and Melissa Reilly, Weston Woods Studios, producers of "March On!: The Day My Brother Martin Changed The World" (links to book)

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards (for the best book about the African-American experience)
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson
(H) The Blacker the Berry written by Joyce Carol Thomas, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
(H) Keeping the Night Watch by Hope Anita Smith, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
(H) Becoming Billie Holiday by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
The Blacker the Berry illustrated by Floyd Cooper, written by Joyce Carol Thomas
(H) We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
(H) Before John Was a Jazz Giant: A Song of John Coltrane by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls
(H) The Moon Over Star by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (for the children's author or illustrator who's made a lasting contribution to the field)
Ashley Bryan

The Margaret A. Edwards Award (for the YA author who's made a lasting contribution to the field)
Laurie Halse Anderson

The May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture Award (for an individual in the field of children's literature, who will then present a paper at ALA's Annual Conference)
Kathleen T. Horning, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC)

The Mildred L. Batchelder Award (for the best translated children's novel; presented to the publisher)
Arthur A. Levine Books for Guardian Of The Spirit (Moribito) by Nahoko Uehashi, translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano
(H) Eerdmans Books for Young Readers for Garmann's Summer written and illustrated by Stian Hole, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett
(H) Amulet Books for Tiger Moon written by Antonia Michaelis, translated from the German by Anthea Bell

The Odyssey Award (for the best children's audiobook of the year)
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian written and narrated by Sherman Alexie
(H) Curse of the Blue Tattoo written by L.A. Meyer, narrated by Katherine Kellgren
(H) Elijah of Buxton written by Christopher Paul Curtis, narrated by Mirron Willis
(H) I'm Dirty written by Kate and Jim McMullan, narrated by Steve Buscemi
(H) Martina the Beautiful Cockroach written and narrated by Carmen Agra Deedy
(H) Nation written by Terry Pratchett, narrated by Stephen Briggs

The Pura Belpre Award (for the best children's book about the Latino/a experience)
The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom by Margarita Engle
(H) Just In Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book by Yuyi Morales
(H) Reaching Outby Francisco Jiménez
(H) The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentosby Lucia Gonzalez, illustrated by Lulu Delacre
Just In Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book by Yuyi Morales
(H) Papa and Me illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez, written by Arthur Dorros
(H) The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentos
illustrated by Lulu Delacre, written by Lucia Gonzalez
(H) What Can You Do With a Rebozo? illustrated by Amy Cordova, written by Carmen Tafolla

The Robert F. Sibert Medal (for the best children's nonfiction book of the year)
We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
(H) Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Pastwritten by James M. Deem
(H) What To Do About Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy! written by Barbara Kerley, illusrated by Edwin Fotheringham

The Schneider Family Book Award
(for the best book about the disability experience)
Picture Book: Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum by Robert Andrew Parker
Middle Grade: Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor
Young Adult: Jerk, California by Jonathan Friesen

The Theodore Seuss Geisel Award (for the best early reader book)
Are You Ready to Play Outside? (An Elephant and Piggie Book) written and illustrated by Mo Willems
(H) Chicken Said, "Cluck!" written by Judyann Ackerman Grant
(H) One Boy written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
(H) Stinky (Toon Books) written and illustrated by Eleanor Davis
(H) Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator written by Sarah C. Campbell, photographs by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell

The William C. Morris Award (for the best YA novel by a first-time author)
A Curse Dark as Goldby Elizabeth C. Bunce

Surprises? Delight? Rage? Express it all in the comments.

Cross-posted to Kid-Tested, Librarian Approved.