review: (advanced copy of) Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach

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*This book will be released Tuesday, May 6 2014. 

I received Fat Boy vs. the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach from the publisher Sourcebooks Fire. I don’t recall asking for it, but I am not one to turn down a free book. Especially one that pits band geeks against, well…anyone else. You see, I was a band geek. Will be one for life, I suppose. So I instantly fell in love with Gabe – nicknamed Chunk due to his spherical body – and his smart mouth. That isn’t to say I liked everything about him, however that’s the sign of a good character. One with traits you dislike, but whose soul you love.

Gabe and the marching band face a band camp-less summer due to funds from the soda machine being given to the new dance team, where in the past the funds were for the band. Gabe and his friends slowly start a rebellion…one that results in him in an interrogation cell. The book is told in first-person from inside that interrogation cell.

The team of unlikely heroes may seem incongruous to what Hollywood thinks of high school, but it’s 100% factual for what high school really is like. Football players do support the rebellion efforts of their band geek friends. Goth girls do fall for overzealous, overweight, rebellion-inciting boys. Friends who were once awesome do turn into the enemy. This is reality, and Herbach nailed it.

Recommended for:
High schoolers who like a little rebellion with their reading. Band geeks will pump their fists in the air, jocks will nod in approval, and goth girls will smile. Just a little.

Read-alikes:
Scar Boys had a similar misfit-turned-hero element. A.S King’s Reality Boy is not nearly as light as Fat Boy but a solid read-alike.

review: Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

scar

The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos is the story of Harry – an oft-bullied teen who face is covered in scars following an unfortunate lightning incident. I’ll let you read the book to get those details…

Harry’s best friend Johnny is the popular, smart, handsome one. He’s not sure why they are really friends, but Harry goes along with it, if for no other reason than Johnny is the lead singer in their band, The Scar Boys – a nod to Harry’s face, and a pretty rad name for a band. The Scar Boys – who just so happen to have a gorgeous chick rocking out with them – go on the road to see if they have what it takes to go all the way. What happens on that trip, and most importantly, what happens to Harry, is life-changing.

I read an advanced copy of this while I was flying home from Las Vegas last summer, and was immediately drawn in. Harry carried his horrific childhood with him, even though he tried his best not to. When his time to shine arrived, his reaction stunned me.

This book comes out tomorrow, and I suggest you pick it up. And read Len’s essay here. He’s the kind of guy I’d like to have a drink with, and discuss life – not on an existential level, but life stories.

Recommended for: 
I think teen boys will connect to the raw emotions and words. Adult men will appreciate the musical influences, and might even re-live their own former rock band days.

Read-alikes: 
A.S. King books are quite similar to this one because the characters have been dealt a bad hand and they have to figure out if they are going to let the negative overtake them, or if they will over the negativity.

review: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

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Some authors just know what they are doing. Holly Goldberg Sloan is one of them. In April 2012 I read I’ll Be There, a heart-gripping story of two boys on the run from their abusive and psychotic father. Their interaction with the beautifully composed character named Emily made for a novel with staying power. Sloan did it again with Counting by 7s, this time using a quirky adopted girl and her crew of equally-quirky friends.

Willow Chance is a young lady with gumption, questions, and a penchant for the number 7 and the color red. Adopted as a baby, Willow’s parents support her inquisitiveness to the point of letting her turn their backyard into a full and lush garden. She is a character full of humor, despite not meaning to be. Luckily Sloan never lets her readers laugh at Willow, but just chuckle at her candidness.

Everyone else orders spicy pickled tongue sandwiches. I don’t eat meat. And organ meat is a whole other category of stuff I wouldn’t want to chew.

When we are finished they bring us each a bowl of vanilla ice cream and sprinkles on top. The girl next to me starts to cry when she sees the sprinkles. I’m wondering if she’s worried about the long-term side effects of consuming artificial food coloring. It’s a valid concern.

But tragedy strikes, leaving her without her parents, her garden, and everything she loved.

Are you looking for something?‘ I want to say that yes, I’m looking for anything that could make a world gone flat return to its original shape…

Luckily, a crew of unlikely characters find their way into Willow’s world, giving her a reason to get up, then a reason to garden, then a reason to ask questions again. The Nguyen family is realistic, but not so fully-formed that they take away from Willow, or even the oddest character I’ve read in a while – school counselor Dell Duke.

I don’t want to know how you did it. I want to believe that you’re magic.

Willow’s ruminations on life are  sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious. In real life, I imagine I would sometimes find her annoying – but characters are real people, and real people are annoying sometimes. It’s likely, though, that I would adore her and want to care for her like Ms. Nguyen does.

Recommended for:
Fans of Rainbow Rowell’s works might enjoy this for its realism. Also, if a teen is looking to read about death, either as a way to cope or to learn more about the grieving process, this would be a good book to pick up.

Read-alikes
I recently read Bridge to Terabithia for the first time ever (yes, ever) and found similarities in the two novels. Death, from the perspective of a young person with no experience with the topic, is dealt with in a sensitive but realistic manner.

Wednesday reads: Dreams and Reality

A coworker loves to point out when the universe provides, or connects things in a way that seems uncanny. Last year I read Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (about a small Arkansas town that sees the return of a long-extinct bird and the vanishing of the narrator’s brother) and, for the first time in my life, read the term “ornithologist”. That very week I was hanging out with a friend who used the term to describe her dad’s hobby, and I knew the word! Thanks, universe! I find this happens to me quite often, in fact, and when I notice it I say out loud, “Thanks, universe!”.

And it JUST HAPPENED AGAIN. Yesterday morning a coworker brought me my ID saying she found it in the parking lot. And I get into work this morning and see a chain of emails about one of my employees misplacing his own badge, but finding it shortly after the search began.

Universe, you’re killing me! I love it!

Currently I am reading a book about a boy who can pull physical objects from his dreams, and another book where a man’s reality is the stuff dreams (okay, nightmares) are made of. Okay, so this one is a bit of a stretch, but still…go, universe.

dream thieves

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. I just haven’t had time to sit down and really get going on this, unfortunately, but only 25 pages in I can tell you I am very, very excited to keep going. I’ve read other reviews that say this is even better than the first, which is never true of the second book in a trilogy, so I’m intrigued.

 

house of

 

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I wrote two weeks ago that this was going to take me some time to get through. That fact is still true. But I book-talked it in a job interview last week; one of the interviewers jotted down the title, and another recalled its popularity back in 2002 when it was released online.

 

 

to the end

 

To the End of June by Cris Beam. Last year I read Flight by Sherman Alexie, an intense novel about a foster child whose anger at the world takes him into the lobby of a bank, holding a gun. Subsequent time-travelling to various times and places teach him about himself, about perseverance, about courage. This non-fiction expose into the world of foster care in America interests me because Alexie’s story was fiction, but for millions of children it is pure truth.

Wednesday reads: Paris, Paris, Paris

Sometimes I get on a kick. My current kick (read: obsession) is Paris. Again. Listening to The Sharper Your Knives the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn doesn’t help. Nor does watching Julie & Julia. Or The Devil Wears Prada. You could argue that I am torturing myself, and I wouldn’t deny it. So why not continue my French obsession and read a graphic novel-memoir?*

french

 

French Milk by Lucy Knisley is the graphic representation of Lucy’s journal from the 6 weeks she spent in Paris with her mother – both of whom were celebrating monumental occasions – college graduation/entering adulthood and turning 50 years old. There are even a few black and white photographs included in the book, which are in stark contrast to the simple black and white drawings the author sketched.

 

dream thieves

 

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater!!!!! Ahhh!!!!! (That is all. I’d say “read my review of book 1” but I am embarrassed to say that I did not, in fact, write a review of it. I find that hard to believe, but, the blog don’t lie.)

 

 

*Yes, I know novel and memoir mean completely different things. But what if I’d written “graphic memoir”? You’d think I was reading the autobiography of Heidi Fleiss or something.

review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fangirl

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is the story of Cath (real name Cather, twin sister is Wren…get it? yeah, their mom wasn’t expecting twins and didn’t want to think of another name), whose anxiety keeps her from really enjoying her freshman year at the University of Nebraska. Daughter of a similarly-diagnosed father (but throw in a little manic just to keep things interesting) and estranged mother, Cath’s saving grace is her twin sister. Unfortunately college brings out the worst in her twin, and she chooses drinking, partying, and silly girlfriends over her sister and their shared love of writing Simon Snow fanfiction. So Cath continues writing by herself. But – unexpectedly to Cath but expected by YA readers – a boy gets in her way. More like two boys.

Levi is the always-smiling kinda-ex-boyfriend of her buxom roommate Reagan. Nick is her writing partner from her upper-level fiction-writing course. She is uniquely attracted to both, but denies her feelings because she’d rather spend her evenings and free time with the fictional Simon and Baz, characters from a fictional Harry Potter-like series whom she has re-written to be gay. The fictional fanfiction segments have as much typical Rainbow Rowell wit as the actual novel:

Simon spends the entire fifth book following Baz around and describing his eyes. It’s like a thesaurus entry for ‘gray’.

Cath writes about the two boys’ interactions and feelings so well, so intensely, but shies away from her own possible romantic interludes. Even when Levi says things that got my heart racing, she tries to deny her feelings.

I always get lost in the library, he said, no matter how many times I go. In fact, I think I lost there more, the more I go. Like it’s getting to know me and revealing new passages.

This is much more than a story about a college romance, or twin sisters finding their individual identities, or raising your voice over a sea of noise. It’s family, friendship, love, respect, and most importantly…it’s real. Rainbow has done it again. She has written a book that, despite not actually being Cather, I am Cather. And Wren. And Levi, too. Her characters transcend stereotypes and become multi-dimensional people who I feel like I know. Heck, maybe I do.

Read-alikes:
Anything other book by Rainbow Rowell, and Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (despite it being fantasy, complete with dragons and sword fighting).

Recommended for:
Young adult women, fans of fanfiction (I loved reading what Cath went through to publish her stories, and her sense of ownership over them), girls who feel that they are alone. It’s rather empowering, even.

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The book follows Cath’s love of fanfiction, right? So I LOVE that when I Google image search the book and fan art comes up. This one by artist Simini Blocker of Cath and Reagan is just spot-on and I love it. (She drew more of the Fangirl characters and I just adore them all.) More than that, readers are painting their nails in the color scheme of the book’s cover, and baking cakes. I just…I want to do all of it, but I have no one to do it with. 😦

fan

[Yet another] Side note to Eleanor & Park fans, IDK how I missed this until now but she posted her playlist for the book. Love it!!

Meeting Authors and NOT Saying Something Dumb

Once I met an author by running into him on the exhibit hall floor at ALA. (Literally, body against body. Followed by stuttering an apology and the realization that it was Jay. Asher. standing in front of me.) Four times authors have visited my library as part of a speaking tour, organized by the Programming Division manager. By tweeting reviews from this here blog, I have had brief exchanges with many authors – each time as thrilling as the last, but not as surprising. Authors are real people, and some enjoy communicating with their readers, even if just to say “thanks for the kind review”.

Suffice it to say that I am getting better at interacting with the same folks I once considered as untouchable as Johnny Depp or Gavin Rossdale (who are, unfortunately, still untouchable).

I had a little more practice this past weekend when I visited One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia. As part of George Mason University’s annual Fall for the Book festival, a panel of YA authors was speaking about their books. Elisa Nader, Elizabeth Scott, and Valerie O. Patterson all spoke about their characters, about writing such difficult scenarios, and about writing for YA readers.

The panel started with a bang when the authors were asked about writing such difficult topics – death, the Afghanistan war, PTSD, extreme religion – for a teen audience. Patterson said something I wasn’t expecting; “Writing to the teen audience is writing to the teen I once was.” To think that an author writes for its cathartic capabilities struck me as both surprising and obvious…it’s what I do, but I guess I never saw it that way. Then Scott chimed in, revealing that while writing her most recent book Miracle – about a girl suffering from undiagnosed PSTD – she herself was dealing with undiagnosed PTSD. Her therapist actually made her read her own book (which she said she never, ever does) because it could help her overcome her stress.

I appreciated the authors’ congruous message of “teens are already dealing with difficult topics so let’s talk about them”. I find it insulting to the entire age group when adults try to keep them safe from reading about such themes, when really we should be preparing them for how best to deal with the difficulties that they will likely face at some point in their lives.

I recently had a cousin go away to college. In the first card I sent to her I wrote two things I regretted about my freshman year, and one thing I am still thankful for. Not because I wanted to scare her, but because I wanted her to know that if she experiences something challenging or difficult, she has someone to talk to. Teens, young adults, they want to badly to be adults, but they can’t be until they’ve lived just a few more years. Some of those years will be incredibly trying, but if we can provide literature for them to read, and God forbid have a candid conversation with them about the issue, perhaps we can help make that transition a bit easier.