Young Adult

A Slave, a Caliph, a Vampire, a Swimmer, and One Very Twisted 7th Grade Class

The great thing about reading young adult literature the way some people approach eating more greens is that when something is good, it is surprisingly good. Like: no way, there’s broccoli in this? Do I like broccoli now? Check me out, liking broccoli! I become inspired to try more.

This is what happened. I was started eating the greens and finished something really satisfying. This happened not too long after finishing another equally great book. I realized I can do young adult, especially when the books have imperfect characters. I love male protagonists. I am almost never ready to face the crucible of paranormal romances. Ancient civilization settings and retellings are my weaknesses.

Here’s a few I’ve read in the last few months.

A Slave, a Caliph, a Vampire, a Swimmer, and One Very Twisted 7th Grade ClassAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Published by Penguin LCC US Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 464
Buy on Amazon //Check out from Library

Laia is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire's greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.

4.5 stars. Maybe 5. So, so great. Tahir had me at “inspired by the Roman Empire.” Public Radio International described it perfectly as having “the addictive quality of The Hunger Games combined with the fantasy of Harry Potter and the brutality of Game of Thrones. I can’t put it in the library–I don’t think, need to discuss with principal–but I’m still happy I read it. So many fabulous talking points with teens, if only I had the chance! This is one I’d immediately approve as a high school librarian.

I could not finish this book. It had everything I dislike about young adult literature, which disappointed me tremendously since going in I thought I would love it based on all the tropes it hit. 1) The insanely beautiful female protagonist who had no idea she was beautiful, despite the boys clamoring to be with her. She was also smart, funny, witty, shrewd, loyal, had hair of onyx, skin like velvet, and was a wonderful daughter. Did I mention she might have incredibly strong but long-hidden magical powers? 2) The moody male protagonist who was just misunderstood. He murders women, but he does it for the greater good. She’s totally going to fix him. 3) Love triangle. Of course who childhood friend has been in love with her all this time. She kind of sort of likes him back, but it’s all so confusing. Decisions, decisions. 4) Adults? What adults? 5) Heavy handed symbolism and imagery, bizarre themes. Shahrzad has onyx hair. Khalid has gold eyes. His competition, the childhood friend, has silver eyes (yes, she really did). You could make a drinking game out of the number of times she references a jewel or mineral.

This book popped up as a recommendation on GoodReads because it had over 3 million in sales and glowing reviews. I didn’t pay much attention on Amazon or I would have immediately realized it’s self published. I have no problem with self publishing and have read some great books that way, but this isn’t one of them. I’m giving the book one star because it takes guts and perseverance to write and publish a book.

YG recommended this book to me, and I loved it. Add this one to my dream high school library. Chris Crutcher writes with a confidence and familiarity that suggests a prior career working with young adults. The angst–there’s always angst–isn’t maudlin or sentimental. The Good/Bad Guys were a bit one dimensional and the ending juddered to a stop with red bows streaming, but it wasn’t anything intolerable. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4

Even the young adult books are dark in Denmark. This is the book I spoke of the other day on Facebook. This book, an existential, modern-day Lord of the Flies, was insane. It was edgy and disturbing and thought provoking, so of course I loved it. It was a Michael Printz Honor book 2011 but, though already hailed as a classic in Europe, it’s been poorly received in the United States. We like our 7th graders to moon over classmates and make awkward social decisions. We don’t like them doing…that. Seriously, this book is not for the faint of heart. My favorite hate-it review is this one. That is one pissed of grandma.

Ready Player One | Ernest Cline

Ready Player One | Ernest ClineReady Player One by Ernest Cline
Published by Random House NY on August 16th 2011
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy & Magic, Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 374
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

I finished a book and it was made of paper. They call it: READY PLAYER ONE, and it was set in a world where people spent more time living online than in real life. I picked it up because I was, like, whoa! I can’t imagine a life where people would prefer to interact with strangers online than friends and family in real life. I’ll have to suspend disbelief for this one!

James Donovan Halliday (1972-2039), born the same year as yours truly, spent most of his life playing, and then designing, video games. The OASIS, a massive online simulation used by billions of people in the dystopian future of 2044, was his masterpiece.  But Halliday, like Howard Hughes and Willy Wonka before him, had the social skills of a withering turnip. He  lived alone, died alone, and in the end wanted his company–and OASIS–to go to someone who loved it as much as he did. Wade Watts, teenager, knew he was that guy.

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When Halliday died, his bequeathed the entirety of his estate, including The OASIS, to the person who could find the Easter Egg he hid in The OASIS. To find this Easter Egg, players had to pass through 3 hidden gates and succeed in the challenges set up inside.  You also had to be insanely knowledgeable on all things having to do with the 80s. At first, everyone was a gunter: someone who hunted Halliday’s Egg. But after almost six years, interest waned and rumors circulated that it was all a hoax by Halliday in his last, delirious days. Then, Wade Watts found the fist gate. The book is about everything that happens next. Think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets The Matrix.

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Wade in his hideout, an abandoned van, while on the OASIS. Artwork by FLorian de Gesincourt

I thought of my brother the entire time I read Ready Player One and am buying him a copy for his birthday. It’s a fun, nostalgic (almost too much), and exciting homage to video games, pop culture, nerds, and the halcyon days of the 80s and early 90s. I suspect it’s a book best enjoyed by those of us who remember Pong, Legend of Zelda, and John Hughes movies the first time around. Everyone else will enjoy the movie, which Steven Spielberg promises will be great.

p.s. If you read and enjoyed the book, check out the fan art. It’s amazing!

The Fantasic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Fantasic Flying Books of Mr. Morris LessmoreThe Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore Published by Simon and Schuster on 2012-06-19
Genres: Books & Libraries, Fantasy & Magic, New Experience, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 56
Goodreads

The book that inspired the Academy Award–winning short film, from New York Times bestselling author and beloved visionary William Joyce. Morris Lessmore loved words.He loved stories.He loved books.But every story has its upsets. Everything in Morris Lessmore’s life, including his own story, is scattered to the winds. But the power of story will save the day. Stunningly brought to life by William Joyce, one of the preeminent creators in children’s literature, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a modern masterpiece, showing that in today’s world of traditional books, eBooks, and apps, it’s story that we truly celebrate—and this story, no matter how you tell it, begs to be read again and again.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore isn’t new. I bought it a few years ago when it first came out and was all the rage. I tried to read it with Nico, but he was not interested–not even a little. I put it on the shelf and forgot about it.

Yesterday I read two books to the first graders. The first was The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. They loved it, hanging on the edge of their seat loved it. They were quiet as church mice as I read the last few pages, quietly absorbing every word, every picture. And boy, what pictures.

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I know I’m not sharing anything new to many of you bookworms. Many of you either own the book, have read the book, or watched the award winning short film. I share this because when I got home, I took the book out of my purse and set it on the dining room table. Then I got caught up preparing dinner, feeding Buttercup, getting the mail…the usual stuff you do when you get home from work. After a while, I walked out of the kitchen to make sure the boys were on task with their homework. Nico wasn’t doing his homework–no surprise there–but he was sitting at the table reading The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Color me more than surprised! He read every word, but then spent an inordinate amount of time analyzing every picture. I could see him cataloging all the details, absorbing everything. The book is far below his reading level, but he read without my strong encouragement.

By the time Mikey was Nico’s age, he was well into chapter books, though he still enjoyed picture books. He still reads them today “to remember my childhood,” he says. (Good grief.) Nico is not Mikey, and that’s more than okay. It was a good reminder to not compare my children and to refrain from pushing one beyond what they are ready to do. Nico can read more advanced books. He’s actually a strong reader. But, for whatever reason, he lacks the interest and the confidence to do more. If I continue to force him to do what I believe is his level, the only thing I will accomplish is to make reading just another task he has to complete. It’s time to rethink the kind of books I encourage Nico to read.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ear: A West African Tale is the other book I read to the first grade, in case you were curious. It’s a cumulative tale, which the kids always love. They think it’s the true mark of an adult to be able to say “ULTRA SO MANY WORDS MRS. KENDALL” without having to take a breath.

Summer Reading, Because Apparently I’m Nuts

Summer Reading, Because Apparently I’m NutsBeastly by Alex Flinn
Published by HarperCollins on 2009-12-29
Genres: Adolescence, Fairy Tales & Folklore, Fantasy & Magic, General, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Buy on Amazon //Check out from Library

A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright—a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster. You think I'm talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It's no deformity, no disease. And I'll stay this way forever—ruined—unless I can break the spell. Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I'll tell you. I'll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I'll tell you how I became perfectly . . . beastly.

Modern fairy tale retellings and fractured fairy tales are popular with the junior high kids (mostly girls) thanks to shows like Once Upon a Time, Sleepy Hollow, Teen Wolf, and Beauty and the Beast. Beastly is similar in style and tone to those TV shows: slick and lacking substance. The main characters are young teens with far more freedom than likely, though to follow the original plot of Beauty and the Beast requires this. There is slang, instant messaging, and references to online life. It was interesting to see the story from Kyle's point of view, especially since this is a love story. Parents should know there are references to drug use (adults), drinking (teens), violence, kissing, and an inference to sex. Any "bad" behavior occurs before redemption and reflects Kyle's formerly debauched lifestyle. The publisher lists this book as appropriate for young adult 14-17 years of age.

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It’s been about two weeks since Ruth Graham’s link-baiting post about adults who read young adult literature. I read it, of course, because just about everyone I know sent me a link and asked me what I thought about the idea that adults should be ashamed to read YA. My response, short version:

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My response, long version:

I don’t know who Ruth Graham is, nor do I care. She’s entitled to her opinion and I suspect it’s more moderate in real life. No, I don’t think adults should exclusively read young adult literature. The general theme of my book club should make it obvious that I don’t think anyone should stick to one category of fiction, to say nothing about genres. Reading only young adult literature would be like eating cereal every day for the rest of your life. Reading only young adult fantasy (or dystopian, horror, romance, etc.) would be like eating Cheerios every day for the rest of your life. Torture. Pure torture…for me.

Some people really like cereal. And some people could swim in Cheerios for the rest of their life and be content. Good for them. Let them eat cereal! If they miss out on something great from the adult section, they miss out. And guess what? Those who refuse to read young adult will probably miss out on something great, too. It’s the curse of partisanship.

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The other day I stopped by the school and picked up four enormous boxes of new books for the library. I have hardcovers and paperbacks of all sizes for grades K-8, maybe several hundred, and rather than wrapping them with protective film in a quiet library on an empty school campus, I decided to bring everything home so I can do one or two books per day in front of the TV. As I was loading up the books, I realized how few of them I’ve read. The fact is, young adult is not my go-to category when I’m looking for something to read. That’s going to change this summer.

I’ve decided that I should read more young adult literature because I work (for free) with kids and books. I love what I do. Love it. I truly believe it’s what God put me on this earth to do, and I want to do this to the best of my ability. I can’t sell kids on books I haven’t read. If you work with kids, you need to understand what they like, watch, and read. Period.

I’m already doing something similar with my Newbery challenge, and this will be an extension of that admittedly lofty goal. Donalyn Miller does a “book a day” challenge every summer to help her catch up with what the kids are reading, and I’m planning something similar. I’m lucky I work with K-8. On some days, I’ll be reading a picture book.

I mentioned this summer reading plan on Instagram (I’m @TheMrsKendall), and I was asked for super quick book reviews on the books I read. I’m all for it, and I even bought a book review plugin for the blog to help me organize the blog posts.

The beginning of this post is a test run on this new plugin using the first book I’ve read from the library pile. Please excuse the kinks as I get used to the technical stuff that always confounds me. For example, the review should be at the end of this post. Oh well. I’m also trying to see if I can format the posts so that I can review more than one book at a time. No one wants to read dozens of book reviews on kids books, I know. If it looks like I can’t do multiple reviews per post, I’ll post them all during the weekend so you can quickly skip past the ones you don’t want to read.

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