Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: The Inquisitor's Apprentice by Chris Moriarty

Warning: this is going be very long and somewhat spoilery. Sorry to do this to you guys, but I really needed to write all this out as a way of working it out in my head.

Book: The Inquisitor's Apprentice
Author: Chris Moriarty
Published: 2011
Source: Review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

Sasha Kessler lives in the ghettos of the Lower East Side, where everyone practices magic, at least until the police come around, and then they all pretend that such a thing has never occurred. Because magic is real, and outlawed, in this alternate late-19th-century New York City.

Poor Sasha makes the mistake of identifying magic, and compounds that by doing it in front of the police. Terrified that he'll be taken away, he's astonished to get something even more horrifying: a job. Specifically, a job with the very department that sniffs out and punishes magic-doers. As much as he struggles with the idea, it pays more than his parents make in a month at the Pentacle Shirtwaist Factory, and there's the family to take care of.

Sasha swallows his misgivings and accepts. He's assigned to the mysterious Inquisitor Wolf, along with annoying fellow apprentice Lily Astral, and thus starts a tour through the highs and lows of New York City in the late 1800's, with the quirky and fascinating twist that magic always adds. But Sasha still has to take care of his family, and that means never, never letting on to Wolf and Lily that he comes from the very neighborhood where they hunt the most magic-workers.

So, this was a vastly entertaining and thought-provoking book. There was all this great stuff that wove magic and prejudice and immigration and class together, and I was going, “Awesome! Love it!”

Then I got to a certain point and went, “Oh, this . . . this is the climax. Isn’t it.” And I read on, and bad guys were defeated and good guys won and I kept having to remind myself, “This is the climax.” Because I just didn’t feel it, y’all. I couldn’t work out why I had such a lackluster reaction to the high point of a heretofore whizbang book, until I slept on it. Then I realized why it didn’t feel climactic, and that was because, for me, the climax didn’t address the central question of the novel.

Oh, sure, it wrapped up the mystery that had been building up. Who wants to kill Thomas Edison? (Answer: the villain. Duh.) And for that it was plenty exciting. But while that got taken care of it, the climax did nothing about the most interesting question of Sacha’s identity.

See, for me, one of the core tensions was between the main character’s two identities. On the one hand, he’s a nice Jewish boy from the Lower East Side tenements whose parents had escaped the pograms and come to America for the marvelous opportunity do backbreaking work in factories and on the docks. Magic is intimately woven into his faith, and his whole family uses or can use magic. On the other hand, he’s the apprentice to the best Inquisitor in the city, who could imprison everyone he cares about with one report.

Working for Wolf brings Sacha into the high-powered world of industrialists such as J.P. Morgaunt and the Astrals, who all make use of magic but look down on the people who actually do it, illustrating the class and immigration questions that seethed in the real era. Thus the setup. Pretty nifty, no? Then we got to the climax.

Throughout the novel, he’s been lying just as hard as he can about his origins, going to ridiculous lengths to hide them from Inquisitor Wolf and Lily. What I really wanted in the climax was for Sacha to have no choice but to proudly own who and what he was. That’s not what I got, not at all, and that’s why it didn’t feel climactic to me. Worse yet, we’re told that he quietly confessed his secret to Wolf after the climax and . . . that was it. What?

Now, I’m hoping really hard that this the start of a series, because the world is so rich with opportunities to explore. Lily, for example, fascinates me. And of course Moriarty’s love for New York, particularly New York City in the late 19th century, shines through. But for such a powerful and emotional story thread to be quietly wrapped up off-stage . . . well, all I can say is that I hope it continues on into the next book, because I can't help but feel cheated of a climax.

Monday, January 23, 2012

2012 ALA Youth Media Awards

John Newbery Medal
for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
(H) Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin
(H) Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Randolph Caldecott Medal
for the most distinguished American picture book for children
A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka
(H) Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
(H) Blackout by John Rocco
(H) Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Michael L. Printz Award
for excellence in literature written for young adults
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
(H) Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
(H) The Returning by Christine Hinwood
(H) Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
(H) The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Coretta Scott King Awards
for the best book about the African-American experience
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson
(H) The Great Migration: Journey to the North by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
(H) Never Forgotten by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon

Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom by Shane W. Evans
(H) Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson

Virginia Hamilton Practitioner Award for Lifetime Achievement
Ashley Bryan

Schneider Family Book Award
for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience

Picture Book
No winner selected this year

Middle Grade Novel
Close to Famous by Joan Bauer
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Young Adult Novel
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

Alex Awards
for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences
Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin
In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard
The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithin
The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens by Brooke Hauser
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Robopocalypse: A Novel by Daniel H. Wilson
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures by Caroline Preston
The Talk-Funny Girl by Roland Merullo

Andrew Carnegie Medal
for excellence in children's video
Paul R. Gagne and Melissa Reilly Ellard of Weston Woods Studios, Inc., producers of “Children Make Terrible Pets"

Margaret A. Edwards Award
for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.
Susan Cooper, for her The Dark is Rising sequence

May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award
recognizing an author, critic, librarian, historian or teacher of children's literature, who then presents a lecture at a winning host site
Michael Morpurgo

Mildred L. Batchelder Award
for an outstanding children's book translated from a language other than English and subsequently published in the United States
Soldier Bear by Bibi Dumon Tak, illustrated by Philip Hopman, translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson
(H) The Lily Pond by Annika Thor and translated from the Swedish by Linda Schenck

Odyssey Award
best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults
Rotters by Daniel Kraus and narrated by Kirby Heyborne.
(H) Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri and narrated by JD Jackson
(H) Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt and narrated by Lincoln Hoppe
(H) The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater and narrated by Steve West and Fiona Hardingham
(H) Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt and narrated by Wendy Carter

Pura Belpre Awards
For the best books about the Latino cultural experience

Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
(H) Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck by Margarita Engle
(H) Maximilian and the Mystery of the Guardian Angel: A Bilingual Lucha Libre Thriller by Xavier Garza

Diego Rivera: His World and Ours illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh, written by Duncan Tonatiuh
(H) The Cazuela that the Farm Maiden Stirred illustrated by Rafael López, written by Samantha R. Vamos
(H) Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match /Marisol McDonald no combina illustrated by Sara Palacios, written by Monica Brown

Robert F. Sibert Medal
for most distinguished informational book for children
Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet
(H) Black & White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor by Larry Dane Brimner
(H) Drawing from Memory by Allen Say
(H) The Elephant Scientist by Caitlin O’Connell and Donna M. Jackson, photographs by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell
(H) Witches!: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer

Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award
Books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered experience.
Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy by Bil Wright
(H) a + e 4ever by Ilike Merey
(H) Money Boy by Paul Yee
(H) Pink by Lili Wilkinson
(H) with or without you by Brian Farrey

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award
for the most distinguished beginning reader book
Tales for Very Picky Eaters by Josh Schneider
(H) I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems
(H) I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
(H) See Me Run by Paul Meisel

William C. Morris Award
for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
(H) The Girl of Fire and Thorns Rae Carson
(H) Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard
(H) Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
(H) Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults
honors the best nonfiction book published for young adults during a November 1 – October 31 publishing year.
The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin
(H) Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom and Science by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos
(H) Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal
(H) Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) by Sue Macy
(H) Music Was It: Young Leonard Bernstein by Susan Goldman Rubin


Congratulations to all the winners and honorees. Now to work on my reaction post. It was a surprising year in some ways. Tune in tomorrow.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Awards Eve!

Just in case y'all didn't know, the ALA Youth Media awards will be announced tomorrow morning, at 7:45 Central time. If that sentence made you go, "Huh?" these awards are like the Oscars for kidlit, with the big kahunas being the Newbery and Caldecott awards.

Like most of us, I can't be in Dallas for the fun in person, but you can bet I'll be watching the live webcast, joining in the Twitter party (hashtag: #alayma), and generally geeking out in a way that would be embarassing except all the cool people are gonna be geeking out too.

Watch this space tomorrow for a full list of the winners.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Censorship and Mexican-American Studies in Tucson

I generally don’t talk about current events or politics on this blog. I’m pretty content to yak on about books and awards given to books and sometimes information about movies made from books. Narrow but deep, that’s my focus.

But something happening in my immediate vicinity has been making national news. The word has gone out that the largest school district in Tucson has been banning books related to the Mexican-American Studies program, which it's in the process of removing from high schools. Read TUSD's statement in reaction to their sudden notoriety. Bonus: it includes the list of books to be removed.

Banning is actually an inaccurate depiction of the situation. They're being removed from the former MAS classrooms, but they're available at the school libraries and, oddly enough, in other social studies classrooms that were not MAS studies classes. Mind, I'm not saying that's not censorship. It's just not the full-on book-burning that is being portrayed nationally.

This is my hometown, one I love very much, warts and all. This is about censorship, which as a librarian strikes at one of my core values. This is about ethnicity and pride, which as a Latina woman and proud to be so, is also one of my core values. (To those who have met me: yes. I am. We come in all shades, you know.) And finally, this is about our kids and teens and what they’re learning, what they’re permitted to learn, what identity they are forming for themselves and what identity is being formed for them, which as someone who loves kids’ and YA literature, is something I’m thinking about all the time.

This is about more than books, although as always, the books are an easy target. They're physical objects which can be removed from a curriculum, but as in all censorship cases these objects represent ideas. Removing the books is an attempt to control the uncontrollable. Here's what Arizona is trying to control, and why a simple change of venue for a few books is just the tip of a particularly vicious iceberg.

As a result of a state law, the board of the Tucson Unified School District recently voted to end the Mexican-American studies classes at local high schools. This is not just a school district cutting out a class or two. This is a school board surgically excising an entire curriculum that seeks to study the history and culture of Mexico, the United States, Mexican-Americans, and how our countries interact up to the present day.

The state law in question is Arizona House Bill 2281, specifically the following passage.
(Sorry for the caps, guys. That's the way it's printed on the bill.) For those more thorough-minded, here's the full text at the Arizona Legislature's website. And read also Janni Lee Simner's much more cogent post, On Tucson's Ethnic Studies program, and a little on Arizona politics. (ETA: Holy crud, even the New York Times has thrown in an editorial.)

Basically, what they're saying is that by choosing to study the culture and history of a country other than America, teachers are creating a seething mass of future revolutionaries instead of educating our young people on a history and culture that's going to have an enormous effect on the world they stand to inherit and ultimately, run. By the way, my understanding is that this program was not limited to those of Mexican-American origin, but rather open to any TUSD student who wanted to sign up. Somebody please correct me if I'm wrong on that.

Understand: I am not placing all the blame onto the TUSD board. They're doing their best to comply with state law, which is, y'know, the law. My ire is aimed more at the lawmakers who wrote HB2281 in the first place.

What lawmakers forget (or want everyone else to forget) is that Arizona wasn’t part of the United States until the Gadsden Purchase. We just barely became a state in 1912. In our 100th year of statehood, we are effectively denying that Mexico and its people ever had any important effect on our town, on our state, and on our country. Which is bullshit.

I’ll say that again.


We are a border state and have been for generations, the border gliding back and forth across the mountains and the desert. Tucson has existed under no fewer than four flags in our 236 years (yep, that number is correct) of existence as a city.

And yet, we are being forced to deny our very nature as a border town by denying any views of history and literature other than the standardized, mainstream America one.

You know what these kids are hearing? “You (or your friends or your neighbors) are not worth studying.”

“Your (their) background is not as good as our background.”

“You (they) are controversial. We don’t want to talk about you (them). When we talk about you (them), people get resentful. We don’t want that.”

“So stop talking.”

“It’s better for you (them) to lose your heritage, lose pride in your history, then for us to face that this is a border town in a border state and that we’re marbled through with all different colors. We don’t want all those colors. They’re untidy. They make messes.”

This is about more than Mexican-Americans, though. Tucson has refugees from countries all over the world. In my library, I can hear a veritable Tower of Babel in one hour at the desk. If Mexican-American studies are deemed illegal and controversial, then what about kids from Nepal? From Somalia? From Vietnam? Believe me, they're all in my library, all struggling to make sense of themselves, their backgrounds, their old country, and their new. Consider what does it do to your heart when your new country says, basically, "Forget about your old country. It doesn't matter to real Americans."

They hear: You don't matter. If you want to be a real American, you have to forget who you were.

That's not my ideal of America. But today, that's the reality in my Arizona.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Book Review: The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History by Adam Selzer

Book: The Smart Aleck’s Guide to American History
Author: Adam Selzer et al
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

What’s there to summarize? It’s American history. We know all this stuff. Columbus discovered, the sons of liberty rebelled, there were some wars. Oh, and some guys got elected. Nothing new here people, move along.

Except this is history with all the snark included. In addition to bringing the mockery to such ripe topics as the Puritans (“stupid hats of history”) and the Industrial Revolution (“Rich Industrial Jerks”), Selzer and co talk about the stickier bits of American history, the nasty stuff that we’d really rather sweep under the rug. Special kudos for the way they discuss the slave question way earlier than most history books. They also don’t pussyfoot around with apologies. In the Civil War section, they basically come out and say, “Dude, it was about slavery,” and boldly invite the pissed-off reader letters defending the South.

I generally don’t write about nonfiction on this blog, because I don’t read much nonfiction, and also because I’m more comfortable examining fiction. But I picked this up after a considerable reading slump, and found that I wasn’t able to put it down. Wha?! It’s not like the plot was a surprise to me. But the delivery kept me glued to the page.

Although Selzer and Co. cover some dark and complicated periods of history that kids generally don't encounter until high school, I'm going to say that it would probably work well for middle schoolers as well, for two reasons. One, the clear way they explain the events and what led up to them will lead kids through unfamiliar territory. Also the irreverent, entertaining style will keep their attention. This is a rare combination, an entertaining and tongue-in-cheek history book that also takes a more nuanced look at American history than most of what’s written for kids and teens. Loved it.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Book Review: The Demon's Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan

Book: The Demon's Surrender
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Published: 2011
Source: Local Library

Cynthia "Sin" Davies knows how to put on a show. She's been a dancer since childhood. Not just a girl in pretty tights and a tutu, but a dancer whose performances, when done right, call up demons. When done wrong . . . well, let's just say she always makes very sure to do them right.

Now her greatest performance is before her. She has to act the part of the rightful leader of the Goblin Market. She has to pretend that her little sister Lydia is just a normal girl, without a trace of the toxic magical abilities that drive the magicians that would destroy the Goblin Market. Most of all, she has to make everybody believe that she doesn't care what Alan Ryves thinks of her. Because he's made it clear that his opinion is very poor, and she has no cause to doubt that. After all, nobody is as good a performer as Sin Davies. Right?

There are some books that I can read thoughtfully, critically, enjoying myself but from a safe distance. And there are some books that I gulp like chocolate ice cream, squeeing in fangirl joy. (Don't think too literally about that last metaphor. It sounds messy.) It's not until I've digested it and contemplated it that I can write a review that's not just "OMG! OMG! And! The thing! With the person! And the other! Eee! Chocolate ice cream!!"  Clearly, since I'm mentioning it here, The Demon's Surrender falls into the second category.

Okay, so the best part? Hoo boy. The love story. Sarah Rees Brennan knows her love stories. There's angst dripping down the walls. Also sexual tension. Angsty sexual tension. Alan is without a doubt the most fascinating character in the entire series, and devotees have been waiting patiently for the story of this upright, honorable young man who's also a compulsive liar and utter puppetmaster, and his simmering feelings for Sin Davies.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book didn't work so well for me. The tricksy con on the reader that worked so well in The Demon's Lexicon fell flat this time around, and while Sin is a romantic equal for Alan, the rest of her story--her quest for leadership of the Goblin Market, her struggle to care for her two young siblings--felt like stuff that was happening while I was waiting for more scenes between them. Obviously, the whole thing can't be a protracted love story. For one thing, you need some space to ratchet up the tension, and clearly Sin has a life separate from The Boy. (Do you hear me, Bella?) But those storylines felt thin and distant to me.

Still, this was worth the wait, for the love story alone.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Comment Challenge Begins!

Why yes, I am doing Lee Wind and MotherReader's annual Comment Challenge, the commitment to post at least 100 comments over the next 21 days. What's that? You are too? Well, isn't that delightful!

Alternatively . . .

What do you mean you haven't signed up yet? I'm sure you just aren't aware of this wonderful yearly opportunity to connect or reconnect with your fellow kidlit book bloggers, discover some awesome new blogs, and show off your own lovely blog!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Two That Didn't Make It

As most of you know, I served as one of the Round 1 judges for the YA SF/F panel on the Cybils this year. You guys, it was incredibly tough to pick just seven books out of a field of 172. That's 4%. Yes, I actually calculated that. As we got down to the wire on the very last few books, duking it out for one of those seven spots, I had to let these two go not because they were bad, but because others were better. Overall, I'm really happy and excited about the books we chose. But hoo, did I love these.

Over at the Cybils blog, our Fearless Leader (different than Glorious Leader, trust me), put forth this challenge/consolation/sweet gumball treat:
If you were a Round 1 judge this year, I bet you have a few favorites that didn't quite make the short list. Maybe others didn't agree with you or you couldn't quite make your voice heard above the online din. If you blog about which book or two (or three) was a personal favorite, I'd love to link to it.
Never let it be said that I ignored the chance to blather on about what I think. So without too much further ado, here are the books that I really wished could have made it onto our shortlist:

Chime by Franny Billingsley
Source: Local Library

It's all Briony's fault. She knows it. She was responsible for her twin sister Rose's brain damage, she's responsible for her stepmother's death, and all manner of other horrors visited upon Swampsea. She's responsible because she's a witch, and witches are evil. So why does Eldric treat her like a real girl? And why, when she's around him, does she yearn so much to be one?

For me, Chime was all about the language. Normally, literary language makes me crazy. I like a well-turned sentence as much as the next geek, but the books that are all about, "Oh, look how pretty I can make it! Plot? What plot?" are just about guaranteed a one-way trip to my wall. But this book was different. The lushness of the language pulls you past all Briony's ferocious prickles into her mangled psyche like one of her swamp monsters. The twisty-turny sentences are like the paths of her mind, which loop back on themselves until you're no longer quite sure which came first, the guilt or the responsibility. Briony's guilty because she's a witch because she's guilty because it's all her fault because she's a witch because she just knows, that's how. And of course, when you can't find the beginning of that Gordian knot, you know there's something hiding on the inside. That's the plot, such as it is, of Chime--a girl finally confronting the darkness inside herself and discovering what cast such a long shadow in the first place.

This book absolutely captivated me and I wanted to read pieces aloud to anyone who would listen.

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick
Source: Review copy from publisher via

It's the end of the world as she knows it. Dying of a brain tumor, Alex takes one last solitary hike into the wilderness to scatter the ashes of her parents. While she's there, a sudden worldwide electromagnetic pulse blows out all modern technology and slaughters most of the adults between twenty and sixty, knocking humanity in general back to the Dark Ages. But it's a Dark Ages that still remembers modernity, and also one populated by teens inexplicably turning into cannibal monsters. Along with Tom, an Afghanistan vet, and Ellie, an orphaned eight-year-old, Alex fights for survival in a world where nothing can be trusted anymore.

I actually read this one shortly before the Cybils started. I spent the entire time clutching my e-reader, wondering what else could go wrong for Alex and for humanity. This book was grisly, gory, gritty, and utterly compelling. (Sorry, couldn't come up with another G adjective.) Alex, who is competent and practical in all situations, really anchored the book through the horror. I think the choice to give her a terminal illness at the start affected this most. Because she was living on borrowed time as it was, she wasted very little time grieving for what she'd lost, because she'd already given it up. She was able to take her horrible new world just as it was. Although the plot took a rather strange left turn about three-quarters of the way through the story, I still couldn't put it down. And I can't wait for the next book, which may or may not answer some of my burning questions.

What Would Katniss Read?

So I was catching up on my blog reading (yeah, I'm still back in December somewhere, so what?) and I ran across the new Hunger Games ALA READ poster over at Waking Brain Cells. And I went, "Oh! The pretty! The leather! The tough faces!" and enjoyed my fangirlish little self.

Then I thought, "Why don't any of them have a book in their hands? The poster says READ. What are they supposed to read? The word READ?" Honestly, I think they missed a prime opportunity to have the shiny hardbacks of each book in the series, prominent in their hands.

Okay, I realize they're on the poster as characters from a book, and I should be happy with that. When am I ever happy? (Don't answer.) Probably District 12 doesn't have any books, except a precious few that survived. And Katniss and Gale, at least, are probably too tough and practical to do anything so unproductive as reading.

But Peeta, at least, strikes me as a reader. I picture him cleaning off the flour and sugar at the end of the day and reading, like, the complete works of Charles Dickens. He'd identify with the hardscrabble life of Oliver Twist or Nicholas Nickleby, and also the luscious descriptions of food in The Pickwick Papers.

Then I started to speculate on which book exactly each of these characters would read, if books were available in sufficient numbers. Yes, these are the kind of thoughts that occupy my mind. Join me in speculation. If you were the District 12 librarian, what would you have hidden under the desk, waiting for Katniss, Gale, or Peeta to come in?

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Reading Roundup 2011

By the Numbers
Teen: 218
Tween: 76
Children: 87

I didn't really read 381 books this year. Many books fell into more than one category, especially those tween books that could go either up or down. There's also a larger number of teen books than in past years because of my Cybils reading.

Review Copies: 63
Swapped: 15
Purchased: 14
Library: 222

Teen: TIE
Oh, the whimpering and whining. I finally chose the weak way out and declared a tie between these two, both read for the Cybils nominations. Round 2 judges, I don't envy you having to pick between them.
Selected in December: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
"I was really poking along, dissatisfied with everything I was reading, but this puppy brought me out of my reading slump, and hard. I spent one whole morning on the couch wrapped in a blanket and Elisa's world. From the sweet, smart main character to the colonial-Mexico-influenced world to the descriptions of the food to the natural, organic inclusion of faith and struggles with same . . . my god, did I love this book."

Selected in October: Blood Red Road by Moira Young
"I've been keeping notes for myself on my Cybils reading. Many of them say things like, 'Interesting premise. Flattish characters.' The notes for this are a gibbering mess of 'OMG! The setting! The characters! The violence! The tone! Saba! Jaaaack!' So. Yeah. There's that. I also got a colleague to read it. When she finished the book, we basically squeed at each other until our voices gave out."

Selected in May: Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah
"Hayyaat is on a quest to bring her ailing grandmother soil from her home. Sounds simple, right? Until you factor in that the soil is in Israel, and Hayyaat is a citizen of Palestine. This book gives readers an up-close-and-personal look at the devastating effects of drawn-out conflicts, and also the terribly complex nature of that conflict."

Selected in September: One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
"Okay, it's set during the 70's, in the heart of the Black Panther movement (joining Kekla Magoon's equally stellar The Rock and the River in representing that little slice of American civil rights history), but first and foremost this novel is about the difficult and fraught mother/daughter relationship. I actually had a very hard time deciding whether to put this one or Meggy Swann in the Tween category. It's an older kid's book, verging on Tween, as is Meggy Swann. Argue with in the comments if you like."

All the roundups from 2011

This was a lighter year for reading. I stopped pushing myself to read so fast, and found I enjoyed myself more. This is a good thing overall, I find.