Archive for November 30, 2009

Where is the holiday love?

Something weird happens when you search for holiday books published for teens: you can’t find any! The supply dwindles down to nothingness in-between childhood and adulthood. Here’s the deal: authors create a million-bajillion cutesy picture books about elves and grandma’s house and presents and dreidels, they skip over the teen years completely and then they start up again with holiday murder mysteries with titles that sound like terrible holiday song puns. Mary Higgins Clark, I am looking at you. He Sees You When You’re Sleeping…indeed.
With much teeth-pulling, I managed to find a short list of books that qualify as teen holiday-themed reading material, but it wasn’t easy, and there should be more! At least for the purposes of putting together fun booklists – YA authors: throw me a bone here!
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Let it snow: three holiday romances
by John Green, Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle.
In three intertwining short stories, several high school couples experience the trials and tribulations along with the joys of romance during a Christmas Eve snowstorm in a small town. The short stories are: “The Jubilee express” by Maureen Johnson, “A cheertastic Christmas miracle” by John Green and “The patron saint of pigs” by Lauren Myracle. Of the three, I enjoyed “The Jubilee express” the most for sheer laugh-out-loud ability, but they were all enjoyable.
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Last Christmas: the Private prequel by Kate Brian
Arianna Osgood should be in Vermont with her boyfriend but she is stranded at Easton with Thomas Pearson and someone is watching them.
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Holiday princess by Meg Cabot; illustrated by Chesley McLaren
Princess Mia presents a guide to the winter holidays, including the story behind some traditions, gift suggestions, make-up and fashion tips for seasonal parties, recipes, and craft ideas.
Thames Doesn’t Rhyme with James by Paula Danziger
While spending Christmas in London with her family, her boyfriend, and his family, fifteen-year-old Kendra finds herself roaming the city in another scavenger hunt, like the one in New York the previous summer (sequel to Remember Me to Harold Square).
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The Christmas Killer by Patricia Windsor
Young girls are being murdered and the only person who can help the police find “The Christmas Killer” is a psychic teen who receives messages from the murder victims in her dreams. Cheery, no?
Anyway, do yourself a favor and re-read How the Grinch Stole Christmas or The latke who couldn’t stop screaming: a Christmas story by Lemony Snicket. Kids have all the fun.
Bah Humbug!
Sharon Long

New graphic novels with heart

I’ve been on a little graphic novel kick lately and had to share the latest ones that I’ve really enjoyed. They are quite different, but similar in the way that they are both thought-provoking and moving.
The first one is titled The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Derek Kirk Kim.
Yang is also the author of the influential and award-winning graphic novel American Born Chinese.
The Eternal Smile is actually a collection of 3 short stories, each with a fantasy-meets-reality spin. The first short story is “Duncan’s Kingdom.” Without giving away too much, it begins with a medieval knight named Duncan who is fighting frog creatures to woo a princess. The story in reality is so much more, and in 55 pages, you see Duncan’s world unravel and learn how things are not what they seem. But in a really cool way.
“Gran’pa Greenbax and the Eternal Smile” looks at a frog with a Scrooge complex, Gran’pa Greenbax, and how far he will go to fulfil his dreams of wealth beyond belief. This story investigates evangelical hypocrisy, greed, wish fulfilment, religion and reality television by poking fun at these unlikeable characters and making us look inward as well.
“Urgent Request” was my favorite story of the three. Cubicle worker Janet Oh receives one of those awful spam e-mails asking her to send money to the prince of Nigeria. In return, she will receive a cut of his riches when he can pay her back. Common sense dictates that we deny the request, but what happens when you follow the fantasy? The simple grayscale artwork compliments the story of Janet and her prince and the passive behavior she exhibits. You will want to wring her neck at some points, but that fits with her character growing until the end. It was a charming story.
A Family Secret by Eric Heuvel.
There is a sea of Holocaust literature out there, and much of it is excellent. In order to stand out, a new work needs to have either a unique angle or excellent quality. I felt that A Family Secret had both elements. The unique angle in this case was the combination of a graphic novel format and the voice of a girl from Holland. Although Maus is known as the benchmark Holocaust graphic novel, this story is definitely more appropriate for a YA audience.
The story is told mainly as a a series of flashbacks from a grandmother to her grandson. Helena Van Dort’s wartime experience is documented in her journal and left in her attic for her grandson Jeroen to discover many years later. Here Helena’s family secret is more of an omission from her history rather than something she’s trying to hide.
The details of her childhood in Nazi occupied Holland are emotional as she struggles with her family to do what is right and stay safe. There are strong family rifts over how to handle their loyalty to the Nazis and to their family friends who are Jewish. Her father is a policeman, forced to join the party, and later seen as a collaborator. One of her brothers joins the German army while the other joins the Dutch resistance. Helena herself ties herself to the resistance and never forgets when her Jewish best friend was taken away from her.
The story is well told and the artwork is very skillful. The Dutch view of the war is not often covered – with the exception of the famous story of Anne Frank. There are also references to Helena’s relatives in Japanese-occupied Indonesia, which I found interesting. A dark time in history rediscovered and retold in an ultimately hopeful way.
Sharon Long
Teen Services Librarian

Marcelo in the Real World

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork.
Marcelo, (pronounced MarSELLo and NOT MarCHelo) is a 17-year-old boy with high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome. He literally marches to the beat of his own music – that is, the music he hears in his head – and is quite comfortable with the life he is used to. He is sheltered and content in many ways by attending a special-needs school called Paterson, where he even has the opportunity to work with ponies. However, his father is less than content with coddling Marcelo and strikes up a deal: Marcelo can choose to work at Paterson with the ponies in the summer and attend regular public high school in the fall or he can work at his father’s law firm in the mailroom over the summer and go back to Paterson in the fall. Marcelo bravely decides to take on the mailroom to force himself out of his comfort zone and into the “real world”.
Marcelo is a likeable character, written with such care and research that his personality and heart shine through his disability. His Asperger’s syndrome is, in many ways, his gift. He has a “special interest” in religion and classical music and engages in theological discussions with his friend the rabbi. He also has the ability to uncover the truth of a situation and follow his moral compass, even if there are difficult consequences.
Through his experiences at the law firm and from the friendship he develops with his co-worker Jasmine, Marcelo slowly starts to blossom. He finds a place in the real world, and as the reader, I found myself wanting to protect him. But you can’t. Ultimately that is what’s great about growing up: you become stronger when you force yourself to do something that scares you. Even if you fail, you have succeeded in the sense that you have put yourself out there and conquered a fear.
This book has an uplifting message but doesn’t sugar coat the evil that can exist in the everyday actions of people. Overall, Marcelo in the Real World is a really well-written and highly recommended book. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up winning some awards next year.
Sharon Long
Teen Services Librarian

Prophecy of the Sisters

There’s a new book that has been haunting me lately – Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink. From the publisher’s description:
“In late nineteenth-century New York state, wealthy sixteen-year-old twin sisters Lia and Alice Milthorpe find that they are on opposite sides of an ancient prophecy that has destroyed their parents and seeks to do even more harm.”
This first book in a planned triilogy has all the right makings for a spooky fall tale. Let’s see: a prophecy that has turned generations of sisters against each other since the dawn of time? Check. A chilly gothic setting with old-fashioned and formal language? Check. The fate of a legion of lost souls hanging in the balance? Check. Yes, it fulfills many spooktacular requirements.
What I really enjoyed was how well-developed the characters are and the many plot twists that kept the novel from being stale and clich├ęd. Even though the book centers around a battle between good vs. evil, the main characters are not so black and white. Lia has a good heart, yet was born into a role she does not wish to fulfill. Alice seems evil from the beginning, but you sympathize with the fact that she ultimately cannot help her calling. The supporting characters, such as Lia’s friends Sonia and Luisa, infuse some warmth and humor into the story and are instantly likeable.
Although the first book spends a lot of time world-building to set the stage for more action to follow, it is a world I very much enjoyed visiting and hope to return. This is definitely a book to curl up with under a fluffy blanket on a cool autumn night.
Sharon Long