Book 45: The Returning by Christine Hinwood

The Returning by Christine Hinwood is the last title I read to fulfill my own mission of reading all of the 2012 Printz and Alex Award winners and honor books. (It wasn’t last for any particular reason…it just took me that long to get it at the library.) The story follows many characters in the fictional town of Kayforl, from the end of the war between the Uplanders and Downlanders, through the union that brought the two feuding camps together. (The fact that it starts after a war is fascinating to me, as many fantasy novels are about the war itself.) All of the characters are complex, diverse, and lovely, and I enjoyed watching them grow, learn, and experience the inevitable changes that life brings. Pin is the little sister who loves her emotionally and physically scarred brother with no abandon, even when the rest of the town hates him for returning from the war when none of their kin did. Lord Gyaar is the young nobleman who puts honor and respect above money and power. Diido is the eccentric young woman who finally goes after the love she so deserves.

I enjoyed reading this fantasy-like tale of the Uplanders and Downlanders. Some of the terminology threw me for a loop, but context clues helped me figure it out. I like that Hinwood didn’t dumb down the maturity of romantic and familial relationships, of returning home from war, or of other difficult life experiences and feelings. She obviously considers her readers capable of understanding the themes, and doesn’t dumb them down.

I will definitely recommend this book to the teens in my library who enjoy reading fantasy, and even those who don’t self-identify as fans of fantasy. I think the elements of this novel can attract many mature teen readers, regardless of their topical interests.


Book 43: Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin

Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin is the story of sixteen year old Judy Lohden, a little person with intelligence and wit that are much larger than her 3-foot 9-inch frame. She is a pleasure to get to know throughout this novel because of her authenticity. She does not bemoan her short stature, instead she lives a rather remarkable life in spite of it. She has a singing voice that stops even the most self-assured of her peers at the private arts school she attends Darcy Arts (or, D’Arts, as only those who attend the school are permitted to call it).

Judy’s story begins in a hotel room where, in a rare moment of weakness, she ran away to in an effort to hide from the most embarrassing thing that could happen to a high school aged girl. (But one that propels C-list celebrity girls into full fledged, A-list stars…you follow?) It is very obvious that DeWoskin has had nightmares about this exact situation happening to her, because her writing is so strong. It is not overly (or even semi-) emotional, so don’t expect a good cry at this one…but it is sincere and hopeful and courageous.

DeWoskin must have consulted her high school journal while constructing this novel, because the passion she put into the events, the feelings, were so authentic that I couldn’t help but remember exactly how it felt to be ignored, then noticed, then kissed, then ignored. I went through the roller coaster alongside Judy (and was so thankful that it was – finally! – just a character in a book going through it, and not me).

I will recommend this book to adults who enjoy YA literature, and  mature young adult readers who respect good monologues. The novel was quite text-y at times, but it never felt boring, and I never wanted to rush through it.

And lastly, please allow me to share a few lines I truly loved:

“I realized, looking at her baby animal parade and yellow walls, that I had expected Goth Sarah’s room to be pierced and wearing fishnet wallpaper. But being a teenager isn’t gradual, that’s the funny thing. it happens all of a sudden, and your bedroom can’t quite catch up with you immediately”

“‘Excuse me!’ the librarian suddenly shouted. She was as skinny as a fireplace poker….She wore frameless eyeglasses and a plaid cardigan, buttoned all the way up. I wondered if she had gotten the job because she looked so much like a school librarian, or if she looked that way because she had gotten the job. Maybe we all eventually become calcified chunks of our own essence.” p.23

Book 42: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

2012 Printz Award Honor book Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey is the story of what happens in the summer of 1965 in a small town in rural Australia. Young Charlie Bucktin is smart, clever, and rather friendless, as he is town bully’s main object of attention. Charlie dreams of whisking the beautiful Eliza Wishart off to New York City, of writing the next great American novel, and of not holding in the secret that Jasper Jones, the town misfit, imposed onto him.

Jasper, terrified that he would be framed for the murder of an adored teenaged girl, solicited the assistance of the town mouse (Charlie) in hiding the body then finding the killer. The secret and the search nearly break Charlie down, but his growth, slow and gradual throughout the novel, finally culminates with surprising strength and courage.

I adored the character of Charlie, and could totally relate to him. For how hilarious, witty, and intelligent he was during conversations with his best friend, the Vietnamese immigrant Jeffrey, he was just as quiet and meek around everyone else. His courage grew from just thinking the retaliatory thought to actually speaking – or shouting or demanding – the retort. I grew to respect Charlie.

I will recommend this book to teens who don’t try to speed-read through a book. This is a very intricately-written story, and skipping even one sentence could mean missing a key plot element. I find this to be a typical characteristic of Australian authors. As my coworker put it, ‘Australian authors expect more of their readers,” and I like that. There is no fluff in this entire 310 pages of this book. Please allow me to share with you a few lines worth sharing. Sorry for the length, this first one is just too awesome:

*During Charlie’s first nighttime excursion with Jasper, he smokes his first cigarette: “I take a small incendiary pull. Of course, it attacks my mouth and burns down the length of my throat. I gag immediately….This shit is poison. And I realize I’ve been betrayed by the two vices that fiction promised me I’d adore. Sal Paradise held up bottles of booze like a housewife in a detergent commercial. Holden Caulfield reached for his cigarettes like an act of faith. Even Huckleberry Finn tapped his pipe with relief and satisfaction. I can’t trust anything. If sex turns out to be this bad, I’m never reading again,” p.35

*During Charlie’s bout of restriction/grounding (whatever you call it…): “Mostly, I spent time writing. Almost obsessively. Every day and ever night. it’s the thing that gave me company. Along with reading. It’s what got me out of the house without them being able to stop me at the door.” p.169

*While bantering with his bff Jeffrey, the second wittiest character in the novel/I’ve ever read: “Jeffrey, all due respect, but a strike like that wouldn’t even cause noticeable discomfort to a newborn rabbit with some kind of brittle-bone disease.” p.219

*While learning how to live in the ‘after’: Cooking is conducting, knowing when each piece comes in and how strong. it’s all about timing.” p.29i

*Oh, and I have serious beef with the alternative cover to this book. Check it out: Okay, there is no way the kid on this cover is the nerdy, friendless Charlie Bucktin. This is the Jonas-Brother-look-alike kid that all the girls in school would fawn over. So…false advertising, publisher. It’s like putting a rosy-cheeked cherub on the cover of the Saw movies. Lies.

Book 41: The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan is a 2012 Alex Award winning title. The book is written in the form of a dictonary. Every (or every-other) page is a new word, but it is not defined normally. Instead, Levithan uses an anecdote from the relationship between the two protagonists to define the word. For example:

belittle, v.No, I don’t want to listen to the weather in the morning. No, I don’t keep track of what I spend. No, it hadn’t occurred to me that the Q train would have been much faster. But every time you give me that look, it doesn’t make me want to live up to your standards.**

Other entries are much more romantic and lighthearted, or funny and sweet. But, sadly, many of them are difficult lessons learned during a rather normal relationship. One that is both supportive and judgmental, loving and hurtful.

This book, I truly hate to admit, made me reflect on my own relationship a bit too much for my own liking. It made me realize that, perhaps I should re-evaluate my reactions, responses, feelings…because sometimes I forget that being in a relationship is just as much about the other person as it is about me.

I don’t quite know if this book is Alex Award -worthy, if only because the relationship is so adult. Living together, enduring funerals of loved ones together/apart, cheating…these are very adult situations (especially how they are described in the novel) so I don’t know how teens can relate. Regardless, the book is wonderful and I will absolutely be recommending it to adult friends and adults who enjoy reading YA lit, as the author is a wonderful author of YA lit.


**Guilty. :/

livid” was one of the strongest, most honest paragraphs I have ever read. Read this book, if only for that passage.

unabashedly” was hysterical. I love the line, “You know, I’d get a tattoo with your name on it. Only, I want you to have the freedom to change your name if you want to.” What an incredibly well-thought out and completely rock-solid cop-out/excuse!

Book 40: In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard

In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard is historical fiction in that it takes place in Illinois in the 1970s, and that the references to TV shows, food obsessions (Jello; pizza delivery as a rare treat and a prank to pull on unsuspecting neighbors), and clothing are totally 1970s. But that’s where it ends, because the interactions between our fourteen year-old (unnamed?) narrator (how am I only just now realizing this…) and her friends, family, and strangers are completely typical of most teenagers, regardless of era.Beard wrote a totally authentic voice, at times annoying and whiny, at other times very mature and thoughtful. (Like many a teenagers’ thoughts.)

I initially wanted to stop listening to the audiobook. I was annoyed by the reader’s voice, tone, and accents. They didn’t sound authentic, in fact, the accents she chose for certain characters sounded forced (except the mother’s…that voice was spot-on perfect and I loved every chapter she was in). But I eventually looked past it because the book moved quickly enough for me not to be annoyed for too long.

The book is basically the year-long story of the narrator’s life, which includes a bathroom trashcan fire while babysitting the town heathens, buying super-stylish clothes on law-away so people would forget how unremarkable and plain she was, and going through puberty and all of the weird changes (mentally and physically) that go along with it. What I truly loved about the narrator was that no matter how weird or unsure she felt, she was totally cool with herself. She understood she wasn’t a cute girl, and didn’t even mind her status as “the sidekick”. She stood up to a boy, and for herself, and for those reasons, I fell in love with our nameless girl.

I will recommend this book to…I don’t know who. I doubt teen girls would love it. It’s not an exciting story, but the plot keeps moving enough to keep a reader’s interest. And the insight into 1970s teenage-dom is rather fascinating. I think my mom might enjoy it, but I can’t say for sure. Maybe that’s how I’ll recommend this book to people, “I think you’ll love it! Or maybe not…” I know I liked it.

Book 39: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater is an exceptional blend of fantasy, romance, and action that is sure to appease any YA lit fan (teens as well as adults). The annual racing of the capaill uisce (water horses) is nearing, and orphaned Kate Connolly (Puck, to those who know and respect her) is racing to earn enough money to save the house her brothers were raised in. But she is the first female to ever enter the Scorpio Races (taken after the name of the body of water as well as the time of the year in Astrology terms), and is getting serious backlash from the men who put a lot of money (and mortality) into the race.

The parallel story line is that of Sean Kendrick, another orphan who has won the race four out of six times and is the best capaill uisce jockey/trainer on Thisby island. He wants desperately to win one more time so he can finally afford to buy his precious water horse from the island’s horse mogul (and his boss), Mr. Malvern.

The individual story lines are intriguing enough, but the book improves drastically when they eventually merge together. Every character in this book is complex enough to not be stereotypical (even the villain surprises the reader), so the reader is never bored.

The picture Stiefvater paints of Thisby Island is actually quite believable, because there is an island off the coast of Maryland called Smith Island that is all but impervious to the changes of time. The residents speak with a British accent (because their island was originally inhabited by individuals and families from the United Kingdom), and according to the most recent census there are less than 300 residents. While reading this book I could easily imagine the Scorpio Races taking place on Smith Island. (Fact: Stiefvater is from Virginia…I wonder if Smith Island is even on her radar…)

I will leave you with this Ryan Gosling meme, because…well, because why not.

Book 31: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Holy cow, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is one of the coolest, most unique books I’ve read all year. No, make that the coolest and the most unique. I have recommended this book to no less than 7 friends and 11 strangers (including my server at P.F. Changs on Firdya night, where – get this – they have a very sizable gluten free menu!). I am begging specific men in my life to read this book because I just know they will get a kick out of the 80s game, movie, and music references. In fact, a teen and I JUST had the following conversation:

D: Ms. April, I don’t like your summer reading theme. If you need space inspiration you should listen to Rush’s album 2112.
D: Okay…
D: Okay… *walks away*

Anyway, the book is set in 2045, when everyone and their mother connects to others, school, and work on a computer system called The Oasis (a combination between Second Life, Facebook, and the Sims). The creator of The Oasis dies and leaves his fortune to the gamer who can find his Easter Egg (a new gaming phrase I just learned…thanks, Ernest Cline!). And so begins Wade’s mission to find the Easter Egg, win the billions, and get on with a better life than the sad one he was born into.

I’ll leave it at that, because the book deserves to be read, not spoiled.

There is already an IMDB account for this book, and there is a ton of really great scenes that would translate well into film…so there is no doubt in my mind that this will be a movie sooner than later. I am no good at casting so I can’t say who’d be good playing which character, I just hope that they don’t choose Michael Cera to be Wade. Because that is predictable and super boring.

Side note: I listened to this on audiobook, and it is read by Wil Wheaton, who, I am told, was an actor on Star Trek: Next Generation. Even before I read this I felt that “this guy is doing a heckuva job narrating this book”…and his penchant for tech and sci-fi only adds to his list of qualifications.