Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rita nominees announced

I dearly love a good romance. I read romance novels from the age of 12 straight through to the age of 20, with occasional breaks for Star Wars sequels. And you can argue that those were kinda romantic too.

Even now that I mainly read children's and YA, I have a special, squishy place in my otherwise cold and black heart for a good love story. So I'm delighted that the Romance Writers of America have a category for Young Adult Romance in their Rita awards, which were announced last week. I'm doubly delighted that this year's nominees are so awesome.

Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog (this is on my list)
Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover by Ally Carter (Spy vs. Hot Spy fun!)
Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles (on my TBR shelf)
Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols (Hey! I reviewed this one!)
The ABC's of Kissing Boys by Tina Ferraro
Nothing Like You by Lauren Strasnick

Congratulations to all the authors!

Also, since I've only read a pitiful 33% of the nominated titles, let me know what you think of the ones I haven't read yet.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Review: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

Book: Some Girls Are
Author: Courtney Summers
Published: 2010
Source: Local Library

Regina is one of those girls. You know those girls, the slavish satellites of the sun that is the most popular girl in school. She is best friends with Anna, the queen of Hallowell High School, which of course means she does all of Anna's dirty work for her. Sometimes it makes her sick, but she always does it, because at least it's not her.

Then she trusts the wrong person, and suddenly Regina is not only popularity history, but the target of all the nastiness that she used to dish out. Not only that, now that she's swimming in the dregs of the school, she's confronted with two of the lives that she helped to ruin: thoughtful loner Michael and Liz, another ex-clique girl. They hardly welcome her with open arms, though. At best, Michael is a foxhole mate, and Liz is openly disdainful. And Regina can't blame them. Because no matter why she did it, she was a bitch.

Now Regina has to negotiate both atonement and survival, and somewhere in all that, find a new self to be.

Oh, sigh. Another book about the scourge of bullies. It'll twist your stomach in all the same old ways. Except this one is different. Because Regina was one of the mean girls before she was cast out, she brings all the dubious skills this has taught her to her war against Anna and Kara. She trips Kara in gym class and trashes her locker. It's all the kind of retaliation that victims have always wished they had the courage for. Of course, this just escalates the war until it comes to physical viciousness, but there's something deeply satisfying about a victim who doesn't take it all lying down.

You can see clearly what a relief her freezeout is for Regina. Even though she's being destroyed in a thousand different ways every day, she never yearns for Anna's friendship again. There are no scenes of, "Oh, how I wish I could just call her up and talk." Because they didn't. Best friend was another term for subordinate. For most of the book, in fact, Regina isn't angry at Anna, but at Kara, the girl who told the initial lie in order to destroy Regina for yet another set of old sins. She takes a long time to start blaming Anna, because she's Anna, who has snowed everyone with her own myth of superiority. Anna is never publicly brought to her knees in the way that many bully books do. Instead, she's threatened with it, and momentarily betrays her vulnerability, and that's what Regina really needs to come to terms with all the previous events: the realization that Anna is no goddess, but just a girl, vulnerable to destruction just like anyone else.

One thing that I kept gnawing on was the apparent blindness of the adults in their life. No parent, administrator, or teacher ever seems to have the slightest inkling what's going on. Midway through the book, Regina's parents threaten her with not being able to see her friends if she keeps skipping class, oblivious to the notion that right now, this would be heaven on earth for her. As someone who works with teens for a living, I thought, "How could nobody have noticed?" As someone who was bullied in my childhood, I thought, "Yep, that's about right." Adults want to believe that we can control and protect our kids, but the truth is, they live in a different world. We're shadowy figures around the edges of their universe, occasionally capable of playing the heavy but more often used in their power struggles.

Summers' first book, Cracked Up to Be, took a somewhat unlikeable girl and actually made her understandable if not sympathetic. Some Girls Are shows that this is no one-off on Summers' part, but a real gift for very difficult characters in situations that ring absolutely true.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

RIP Sid Fleischman

I learned via Facebook that Newbery award-winner Sid Fleischman died on March 17. The link goes to a lovely obituary over at SLJ, so it's definitely worth a click.

I met Sid Fleischman a few years ago at the LA Book Festival, when he was a mere 88 years old. I walked up at the very end of his booth time, as he was clearly ready to go, but he signed my book and listened to me witter fangirlishly with the utmost class and patience.

Condolences to his family and his many, many fans.

Book Review: Leftovers by Laura Wiess

Book: Leftovers
Author: Laura Weiss
Published: 2008
Source: Local Library

Blair and Ardith come from two different worlds. Blair is the daughter of two high-powered lawyers, one of whom is gunning for judge. She lives in a huge, sterile house, surrounded by the emptiness of her absent parents, except when they want to trot out their well-bred daughter for admiring colleagues. Ardith is the youngest child of the town party house, and has witnessed more hollow drunkenness and sexcapades than most college students. Different as they are, they’re drawn to each other, the only other person who knows how it is to live without love. Parental disapproval keeps tugging them apart, and their lives crumble at the edges. Then a terrible event gives them the chance to take their revenge on the people who have hurt them most.

The structure of this story is eye-catching, and luckily, Wiess has the narrative chops to back it up. First, Blair and Ardith are telling their stories, looping back to past events to explain a recent one. (Of course, this brings up interesting thoughts of unreliable narrators, and Blair often appears much different in Ardith's chapters than her own, and vice versa.) They address themselves to a nameless witness, although you figure out who it is by about the middle of the novel, but they are also sitting in front of you, the reader, telling you how and why it happened.

Also, it's told in second person, a tense not often used in fiction. This goes beyond simple storytelling: they are forcing you to live it, to see what they see and understand why they did what they did. It succeeds in two different ways, first in the way intended, and second in making you step back and consider, "What else could they have done?" There's a feeling of inevitability about the story arc, though, all the way to its ugly and morally conflicted ending.

Blair and Ardith are both broken souls, broken by different means and in different ways, but broken nonetheless. As with her first novel, Such a Pretty Girl, Wiess weaves a tale that makes you root for her protagonists and cheer as their tormentors receive their comeuppance. Yet you close the book being deeply troubled about their eventual fate.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Book Review: Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols

Book: Going Too Far
Author: Jennifer Echols
Published: 2009
Source: Local library

Meg McPherson is getting out of town. But before she does, she's going to have as much fun as illegally possible. Beer, pot, and bad boys all feature on her to-do list. Then a humorless cop arrests her for fooling around on the forbidden railroad bridge. In exchange for not doing jail time, Meg is assigned to a week of nighttime ride-alongs with the police to see all the places she might be headed if she doesn't clean up her act. And just which cop is she riding along with? None other than Officer John After, otherwise known as that cop with the stick up his butt. Yippee!

As the week goes by, however, Meg realizes that he's more than just Officer After. Only a year older than herself, fresh out of the police academy, John is also smart, funny, sweet, and artistic. In the nighttime hours, something more than animosity begins to grow between them, and now, for the first time in her life, Meg can kinda sorta see a future with somebody.

Except that where she doesn't want to do anything but go, John can't think of anything but staying.

I knew Jennifer Echols' name from her work on Simon Pulse's romantic comedy series, which are, well, almost too cute for me. Lots of cartoon covers and curly writing. Seeing her name on this rather hot cover (seriously, why does this make me want to fan myself?) made me blink a little. Then I read it, on the recommendation of several folks on my blogroll. Hooooooo.

Meg is, as they said of Lord Byron, mad, bad, and dangerous to know. John is Dudley Do-Right with about 1000% more brains. Oil and water, gunpowder and a match, call them whatever you like, these two are not exactly the perfect match at first glance. But that's the trouble with first glances, they barely tell you a tenth of the story. Both Meg and John have good reasons to be the way they are. After an early-teens bout with leukemia, Meg is simultaneously determined to live life to the fullest and never to tie herself down, because she might not be around to fulfill any promises. It takes a little longer to get John's backstory, but suffice it to non-spoilerly say, a past tragedy has focused his entire life on the railroad bridge where he arrested Meg. (I did wonder how, in this seemingly infinitesimal town, both Meg and John missed each others' stories so completely. Minor niggle, and such ignorance is necessary for the story to work.)

The book is most definitely for older teens. Besides the aforementioned beer and pot, sex features largely in this book. Meg is casual-verging-on-promiscuous about sex, and there's one scene where she and John are a couple of layers of cloth away from making love. They're also dealing with questions of impending adulthood. Meg is months away from escaping to college, and John has a very adult and very dangerous job. In fact, for a decent portion of the book, Meg thinks he's much older than he really is.

A lot of teen romances are cute (that word again!) tales in which the major obstacle is "He loves me, he loves me not." Which I have no issue with, but there's something infinitely meatier about a story like this, where the obstacles are all tangled up within the protagonists. Meg and John both have to battle the pain of the past and fear of the future to muster up the courage to love each other.

After this book, I might bite the bullet and go find some of those romantic comedies. A little cute won't kill me, and if Echols can put Meg and John together, then she can bring quite a bit of depth to what I had assumed would be shallow waters.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Reading Roundup

By the Numbers
Teen: 21
Tween: 17
Children: 14

Review Copies: 2
Swapped: 3
Purchased: 3
Library: 32

Teen: Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols
A love story that melted me into a puddle of mush. Review soon!
Tween: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Everything we expect from this author, and flying genetically modified jellyfish too!
Children: The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan
You can give a five-hour lecture about the Great Depression or you can show just one of Phelan's bleak, dusty spreads to get across the national feeling of despair and fear. Your choice.

Because I Want To Awards
Most Troubling: Leftovers by Laura Wiess
Best Series Windup: Forever Princess by Meg Cabot
Give to Kids Who Want Georgia Nicolson With a Few Actual Problems: My Cup Runneth Over by Cherry Whytock
Snarkiest Good Christian Girl: Emma from What Would Emma Do? by Eileen Cook