Sunday, September 26, 2010

In My Mailbox #4

I do have an IMM post this week! I promise! I'm so sorry to be a bit late in posting but this weekend has been a little bit crazy! So, In My Mailbox is a delightful meme begun by Story Siren at her wonderful book blog that encourages bloggers to present the books they have picked up over the week through bookstores, mail, or libraries to the larger book blogging community.  For more information about IMM, check out Story Siren's great page about it. My books are, as usual, all from the delightful local library system.  They are an interesting mix this week. I apologize for the faulty photo; those two cookbooks just did not want to photograph nicely for my mediocre camera! 

So this week I got:

Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me
Papa Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle

Miss Rumphius   [MISS RUMPHIUS] [Hardcover]

    Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Madeline, Reissue of 1939 edition

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

Where the Wild Things Are

     Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak 

Ella Enchanted (Newbery Honor Book)

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

The above books are all ones I have read in the past but checked out in preparation for assignments for my Children's Resources class. They are all some of my favorites and I loved looking at them again! 

Pretties (Uglies Trilogy, Book 2)Pretties by Scott Westerfeld



Bread by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno

One-Dish Vegetarian Meals

One-Dish Vegetarian Meals 
by Robin Roberts

The Clueless Vegetarian

     The Clueless Vegetarian 
      by Evelyn Raab

As you might tell here, I am working my way through the thoroughly addicting Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld as fast as the library systems can supply me and I discovered the massive cookbook collection at the main branch of the library.  

So a diverse but satisfying haul this week.  Remember that this week is Banned Books Week! Celebrate our freedom to read!  For more info about Banned Books Week, check out the ALA site, here.  I plan to post my thoughts on the event and the issues it addresses this week in between some review updates :) 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Keep Speaking Loudly Through Awesome Giveaways!

So while I was browsing around Twitter today to get some updates on the Speak Loudly campaign, I stumbled upon some really awesome posts, including this one by Natalie of Mindful Musings-a blog I am new to but already liking a lot.  She has helpfully posted a bunch of posts and giveaways that have sprung up as a result of the challenge to Laurie Halse Anderson's book SPEAK, which I mentioned in my last post.  So I wanted to acknowledge her generosity in creating such a post and highlight some of the giveaways I'm most excited about. 

Mindful Musings is giving away a copy of either Slaughterhouse 5, SPEAK, or Twenty Boy Summer. 

Carol's Prints is giving away Banned Books Week themed prizes including an awesome Banned Book bracelet, 2 copies of SPEAK, and a pre-order of the new novel The Mockingbirds by YA debut author Daisy Whitney.   

Sarah Ockler, author of another book mentioned in the Scroggins article Twenty Boy Summer is giving away a Wesley Scroggins Filthy Book Prize Pack, which includes Slaughterhouse 5, SPEAK, and Twenty Boy Summer.

Mundie Moms is giving away copies of SPEAK, Burned by Ellen Hopkins, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. 

There are many, many more great posts and giveaways.  Check out the post on Mindful Musings linked above to see more! Keep Speaking Loudly, friends! 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Speak Out and Speak Loudly.

Speak: 10th Anniversary Edition   So I'd planned to write up and post another book review today but that's just going to have to wait.  Instead I'm going to use my meagre free time to put in my two cents on the news story that is setting the book blogosphere on fire.  In case you might not have heard, here's the overview. On Sunday, the wonderful author (and blogger) Laurie Halse Anderson posted on her blog about a college professor named Wesley Scroggins in Missouri who wrote an opinion piece for the local newspaper in which he described her book SPEAK as inappropriate for students to read, classifying it as soft core pornography--primarily, it seems, because the novel contains two rape scenes.  Anderson has called for support because she is concerned that this man's complete mischaracterization of the book might lead to it being pulled from the school curriculum.  The feedback from teens that Anderson has received over the years since SPEAK was first published has illustrated that this book can change kids' lives in the best of ways and she would rather the students of the Republic School District not be denied that opportunity.  

Now, so many other bloggers have already posted on this topic. See the bottom of this post for a list of just a few! And they all have been so eloquent and powerful.  So, I'm going to try and avoid total repetition but it will be hard because I agree so wholeheartedly with these smart people.  

My gut reaction to these events was total disgust and outrage for two reasons. First, I become somewhat volatile and upset at most mentions of people attempting to control what other people read, especially via banning or, in this case, inaccurate badmouthing of a text. If a parent wishes to restrict his or her child's reading, then fine--until that child is 18, that's your prerogative.  But I believe in intellectual freedom and the First Amendment, my friends.  So I do not think that a single person has the right to prevent other people (and teenagers are people) from reading whatever material they wish to read.  Second, I have read SPEAK. It was required reading my freshman year of high school.  Now, I am a geek who actually enjoyed most books required for school, even the 'old ones.'  But SPEAK was different. Reading SPEAK was and is one of the most powerful experiences with a story of my life.  If you have never read SPEAK and do not wish to be spoiled, look away now! 

SPEAK tells the story of Melinda, a freshman who is beginning high school as a social outcast after calling the cops at a party during the summer.  What no one at school (or at home) knows is that Melinda called the cops because a popular senior boy raped her that night.  But afterwards, she became so traumatized and paralyzed by fear and confusion that she essentially stopped speaking altogether.  The novel follows Melinda's slow and difficult path to finding her voice again and finally speaking out and standing up for herself.  

SPOILERS OVER! It is safe again! 

I have been very lucky; I personally have never experienced trauma like Melinda.  But I felt very voiceless in high school; as a shy and bookish teen, I felt alternatively invisible in and glaringly misfit for the social world of high school.  SPEAK captures those feelings of powerlessness and of fear that every young person feels at one point in his or her life.  Moreover, although I have been lucky, I have friends who have not been as lucky.  I have been there in the aftermath of sexual assault and so I am even more furious and disturbed that Mr. Scroggins feels that rape could be equated with pornography, which is defined by its intent to titillate and provoke sexual pleasure.  I have been involved in V-Day activities for the past several years. I have heard the stories from girls (and guys) at Take Back the Night events. Silence is the enemy in the fight against sexual violence and assault. SPEAK is a text that is fighting that fight; it is a novel that tells all kids who feel silenced or afraid, for whatever reason, to find their voices and speak up. What censorship and ignorant fear-mongering like Mr. Scroggins' article does is tell those kids to quiet down.  To shut up because their voices do not matter.  I personally find that attitude to be far more immoral than honest and emotionally powerful literature for teens.  

If you would like to get involved, check out Laurie's original post. She lists several ways to show your support, including writing letters and utilizing online networks such as Twitter. Also, check out these other, far better blog posts on the topic. 
The Story Siren
Liz B. at School Library Journal
Good Books and Wine
Myra McEntire
A.S. King 
Sarah Ockler, whose novel Twenty Boy Summer is also condemned in the article and now is also under threat in MO, has posted on the subject. 

There are many, many more awesome posts out there. I've just mentioned a few here-go look around for yourself and check them out! 

So, please, join us in SPEAKING LOUDLY for this wonderful book, this brave author, and every kid who feels alone and unheard.  Banned Books Week is September 25th through October 2nd.  This year's tagline is "Think for Yourself and Let Others Do the Same."  This message seems more important than ever right now.  So let's celebrate our freedom to read and SPEAK out! 

Monday, September 20, 2010

The God Box by Alex Sanchez

The God BoxThe God Box

Alex Sanchez

SUMMARY: In his senior year of high school, Paul feels like he's got the perfect life.  He's been dating Angie since middle school and beyond being his girlfriend, she's also his best friend.  They sing together in church choir, are active members of Bible club at school, and enjoy just hanging out together.  But then Manuel transfers to school and suddenly Paul's life doesn't seem so perfect.  Manuel is the first openly gay teen to come to town, let alone attend Paul's high school.  But on top of that, Manuel also claims to be a committed Christian--just like Paul and his friends.  His increasing conversations with Manuel have Paul questioning not only his faith but also the feelings he has pushed away for years.  But others have taken notice of Manuel's openness and their reactions are very different.  When the tension at school boils over into a nightmare, Paul must decide who he is and where he stands.  

ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS: I read Alex Sanchez' Rainbow Boys books a couples of years ago and found them enjoyable and insightful despite occasionally clunky or imperfect writing.  My reaction to The God Box goes along the same lines.  Sanchez has crafted a very readable book with appealing and relatable characters and good story infused with a keen awareness of current issues in teen's lives.  Sanchez's writing is straightforward rather than lyrical but he captures the range of emotions experienced by his protagonist with clarity and compassion.  The novel addresses the ongoing tensions between religion and sexuality without attempting to over-simplify or become preachy; instead Sanchez emphasizes the way this conflict affects real kids, like Paul and Manuel.  Because of the subject matter, biblical analysis and theological debate play a large role in the story; kids who do not have an interest in such subjects may find these aspects of the novel annoying or uninteresting--although Sanchez has woven them into the narrative quite naturally.  The novel also contains an upsetting and violent event (although the attack itself is not graphically described, the aftereffects are), so be just aware when recommending it.

I read this book pretty compulsively, drawn in by my concern and compassion for the likable protagonist and his friends as well as my interest in the larger topic of religion and sexuality.  The God Box stands out for its generally unique subject matter in the growing world of LGBTQ fiction for young adults.  It gracefully and bravely addresses topics frequently left untouched by other current writers in the sub-genre, such as being gay and religious or coming out within a certain ethnic and cultural context (in this case Mexican and American Hispanic).  This novel would be a good fit for interested teens of the high school age range. I also think that it touches on an important but frequently unaddressed topic and so would be a good read for librarians, teachers, or parents as well.  

3 1/2 / 5 STARS

Saturday, September 18, 2010

In My Mailbox #3

  I'm back! Somehow I've managed to plow through a few more of my books for review in between grad school work, interning, and my small attempts at a social life and so I allowed myself to grab a few more on a recent library visit. So I am able to once again join in the In My Mailbox party!  IMM is a fantastic meme in which bloggers list the books that they received over the last week via mail/bookstore/library.  It's hosted by the lovely Story Siren over at her awesome blog. For more info, look here. So this week in my "mailbox," I got:

All of my IMM picks this week come from one of my lovely local libraries. 

Bliss Bliss by Lauren Myracle

Rampant Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

Ash Ash by Malinda Lo

I'm very excited about these books; they've all been on my radar for a while now and it's great to get my hands on them at last! Look out this week for reviews for a few of my past IMM books, such as The God Box and Forget-Her-Nots.  What was in your mailbox this week?

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

No and Me by Delphine de Vigan

No and Me
No and Me

Delphine de Vigan
translated from the French by George Miller

SUMMARY: Lou has always been a little different from other kids.  Her exceptional intelligence has caused her to jump forward in school, making her the smallest and obviously youngest girl in her class.  She enjoys inventing studies about the ingredients in frozen foods and going to the train station to observe people saying their goodbyes.  When a school project forces Lou to take a step and approach a homeless teenage girl who hangs out at the station, her life slowly but surely slides into totally new territory.  Lou and No begin a tentative friendship under the guise of an almost business-like transaction; Lou buys No drinks and No answers Lou's questions about life on the streets.  But after the project is done, Lou cannot seem to let go of No.  After convincing her parents to allow No to come and live with them temporarily, Lou is determined to make No part of her broken family.  While No and Lou discover that their delicate connection can blossom into a powerful friendship and bond, they also must face the harsh reality that No's unhappy past might have a stronger pull than any support Lou can offer.  

ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS:  This book is yet another reason that I am so glad that I got into the book-blogging world and discovered exciting things like the 2010 Debut Author Challenge.  I fear that without the lists provided and the motivation to seek out these books, I might never have found a beautiful book like No and Me.  This novel is lovely; evocative and somewhat elegiac and bittersweet.  

Lou is unique and spot-on narrator for this story.  Her quirkiness and shyness are matched by her determination and big heart.  Being an introvert with a high IQ has made Lou an excellent observer and her narration is filled with thoughtful remarks about the behavior of those around her and her own confused attempts to sort out the implications of these keen observations.  

No and Me takes on a tough, and perhaps too often ignored, topic: teenage homelessness.  This English translation uses elegant and delicate writing to frankly portray the harsh reality of Parisian street life and the emotional and socioeconomic entanglements that make escaping it nearly impossible.  Through Lou's sharp but idealistic eyes the reader sees No's vulnerability and fear as she attempts to leave her damaged past behind. Like Lou, I found myself wishing desperately that I could save No.  But this novel refuses to allow for such an easy solution.  Instead, De Vigan seems interested in the complexity of relationships built on sheer instinctual connection and the desire to be needed by another person.  At one point, Lou thinks about her interactions with No in terms of a passage in The Little Prince where the fox asks the Prince to tame him because then they will need each other and so be unique to each other.  Lou wonders: "Maybe that's the only thing that matters.  Maybe you just have to find someone to tame"(180).  

I would love to try and refresh my French to read this novel in its original language; the language used in the translation is both lyrical and straightforward, reflecting the personality of its narrator. I read No and Me slowly, over the course of a busy week; I both wanted to savor its beauty and avoid the sadness it evoked.  Like all good books, this novel made me think and feel intensely without becoming preachy or didactic. No and Me is a novel that would be good for high school age teens as well as adults; I would highly recommend that anyone who enjoys elegant writing and a powerful story, check it out asap!


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)Mockingjay

Suzanne Collins

WARNING: While this summary is spoiler-free for Mockingjay, it is not spoiler-free about the first two books in the Hunger Games trilogy. So if you haven't gotten a chance to check out The Hunger Games or Catching Fire, you might not want to read ahead.  Also, you should go hunt them down at your local library or bookstore asap! When there are spoilery sections in the review I will warn you :)

SUMMARY: Katniss Everdeen, the now infamous 'girl on fire' and Hunger Games victor, has managed to survive yet another ordeal in the arena.  Rescued from the Quarter Quell by the rebel force, Katniss now finds herself playing a whole different kind of game.  Her home district has been destroyed--firebombed by the Capitol following Katniss' own explosive act of rebellion.  But under the leadership of Gale, her best friend and hunting partner, many residents, including Katniss's mother and beloved sister Prim, have escaped to the rebel stronghold, the mysterious District 13.  So not only do both District 13 and a full-fledged rebel movement exist--the revolution against the Capitol has been underway for a while and it's gaining momentum by the minute.  And this revolution's leadership have rescued Katniss and brought her to District 13 with express purpose of using her popularity and symbolic status to advance their cause.  Of course, no one has consulted Katniss about these careful plans.  Meanwhile, Peeta has been taken by Capitol forces and placed in the hands of cruel President Snow.  The rebels claim that Katniss' participation is crucial to their success.  But is Katniss willing to become a pawn in someone else's game again and take responsibility for the millions of people at risk in the campaign?  Can she become the Mockingjay and withstand the great personal damage and expense that goes with it? 

ONESMARTCUPCAKE SAYS:  I initially read the first and second books in Suzanne Collins' awesome trilogy last spring.  I was a bit belated, I know, but I'll use being out of the country as an excuse.  Anyway, from the first pages of Hunger Games I was totally addicted to these brilliant books.  I have always enjoyed dystopian narratives, from The Giver to Fahrenheit 451 and my interest was immediately peaked by Collins' premise of a future in which the socio-economic gaps have expanded to extremes and the obsession with the media, especially reality television, has become lethal.  The compelling action-packed prose kept me turning the pages and the characters, especially the awesome Katniss Everdeen, had my heart hooked as much as my brain.   But I love the Hunger Games trilogy because it is much more than a good dystopian thriller with a cool heroine; these books attempt to grapple with the very current realities of violence, socio-economic inequality, and war.  Collins' novels explore the ways in which such realities are interconnected and how children and teenagers react to and interact with them.  Now,taking into account all those qualities, it is my opinion that Mockingjay was a superb and fitting conclusion to this excellent series.  

WARNING: It will likely get a little spoilery from here on out. Just so you know. 

Mockingjay continued to do all the wonderful things that the first two books did: it kept a good, quick pace and it delved into Katniss' head with honesty while also managing to provoke ethical and moral questions. But this novel is unique from the others in a variety of awesome ways.  Unlike the first two books, we are no longer in the Hunger Games arena.  Instead, the reader is plunged into the experience of being part of a war effort that is equally saturated in blood and televised propaganda.  But, as Katniss observes several times throughout the narrative, it remains a bizarre game with rules of unclear morality in which many players are merely pawns.  And this concept leads me to one area that I think was handled especially beautifully in the narrative: the lines between the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys' remain unclear and this ambiguity seems directly connected to both sides willingness to use violence and manipulation to achieve their ends.  In Mockingjay, Collins explores the role media plays in this process in new ways.  The rebels choose to use Katniss in televised propaganda in order to advance their cause and maintain support among the districts. Katniss soon realizes that she has been transformed from a person into a symbol, and it is the double-edged sword of this process and its effects on the individual involved that Collins details in this latest novel.  

Mockingjay also shows us an even darker and more broken Katniss than previous novels.  Our heroine remains angry, distrusting, and strong but simultaneously she is conflicted, depressed, and damaged. When the novel opens, Katniss is still recovering from the physical and emotional trauma of her last moments in the arena.  She has acquired a tendency to hide in small places and repeats a mantra of facts to herself when confusion threatens to overtake her.  As the narrative progresses, we also see Katniss's internal struggle with continuing depression and the conflict between her rage at the Capitol and her growing disgust with violence as a tool.  Later in the novel, the readers will also encounter a very damaged Peeta whose torture in the Capitol may have altered him irrevocably in painful and negative ways.  Along with these intensified portrayals of trauma and its effects, the novel has more graphic violence and even more tragic and seemingly pointless deaths.  And, in my opinion, all these factors are what make Mockingjay utterly brilliant.  

From my minimal browsing on the web so far, the reactions to Mockingjay have been mixed.  Some readers seem to have been disappointed in the conclusion to the now infamous love triangle of Katniss, Gale, and Peeta for a variety of reasons.  Either the end wasn't dramatic enough or the choice was unsatisfactory.  Now, I will admit that if pressed (lightly), I would have come down on the side of Team Peeta.  But frankly, I think that the conclusion to that portion of the story is merely a part of the larger conclusion just as the romance has always been part of the much larger and more complex narrative. I felt very satisfied by Collins' story, which tied Katniss's choice into her larger need to heal and recover.  She also developed the relationships between Katniss and Peeta and Katniss and Gale organically and within the context of wartime maturation.  Some other readers seem to have found the book to be too depressing or sad.  Is Katniss less outwardly spunky than usual perhaps? Well, she is dealing with the after effects of serious emotional and physical trauma while struggling with the ethics of participating in a war--even an apparently justified one.  So I think her occasional weakness and confusion is not only merited but necessary in the kind of story Collins is telling.  I also appreciated what other readers' seem to find disappointing: the seemingly pointless deaths of well-liked characters.  But, again, if Mockingjay aims to tell an honest story about war then death cannot always be obviously heroic and meaningful. Finally, I found the gentle, sad conclusion to the novel fitting; we leave Katniss somewhat bitter and still damaged but ultimately hopeful that the future might be brighter despite its bloody foundations.

Collins has written a masterful conclusion to a series that will take its place on the shelf of significant contributions to young adult fiction.  She has dealt with war, death, torture, social inequality, and refugee life with brutal honesty.  This book in particular pulls few to no punches in terms of displaying the violence, pain, and horrors of war.  But she does all this while maintaining a compelling narrative filled with characters readers will find themselves caring about deeply.  I have yelled, cried, and shivered my way through reading this trilogy and Mockingjay was no exception.  This novel is an intense, heart-pounding, and fist-clenching experience that also manages to provoke thought and inspire great emotion. And I loved every minute of it so much that I went back and reread it in combination with the first two books almost immediately after finishing it.

So, in other words, I really, really liked Mockingjay. I feel as though my thoughts are still being processed but I tried my best to get the bulk of them out here-hope I did okay! What are your thoughts on Mockingjay