Thursday, March 29, 2012

Should I Be Embarrassed to Read YA?

The Power of Young Adult Fiction: Room for Debate
Janine and I have been following this debate today as well as responses on social media.  Obviously, as high school librarians and writers of a blog called "Well-Read in YA," we can't help but take some offense to Joel Stein's comments about how embarrassing it is to see adults reading young adult literature.  At first, I was tempted to rant and rave about Mr. Stein's pretentiousness.  However, as the day goes and I reflect more on his comments, I feel a little bit sad for Mr. Stein and the fact that he is missing out on some great reading.  I majored in literature at a reputable liberal art college.  I have read many of the classics, and have enjoyed poetry and drama from writers around the world.  However, as important as it is for a book to enlighten you, I also find that it is important that it entertains you.  Therefore, Lev Grossman's article was a refreshing counterpoint.  Many of the classics I have read have bored me to tears, and many have affected me so deeply that I will never forget their characters, their settings, and some of their beautiful lines.  In the same vain, there have been YA novels that have bored me to tears, but why can't a YA novel be great literature?  Can anyone who has read The Book Thief, for example, argue that it is not unique and beautifully written?  I hold YA and adult fiction by pretty much the same standard: Is it a book that's hard to put down?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Janine has been constantly telling me that I have to read this book, and I wasn't exactly on the dystopian band-wagon, so I was a little hesitant.  Thank God I relented, because this is one of the best, most exciting novels I have read in a while!

Beatrice Prior lives in (future?) Chicago, where society has been separated into five factions.  Candor values honesty. Abnegation values selflessness.  Dauntless values bravery.  Amity values peacefulness.  Erudite values intelligence.  In their 16th year, young citizens go through a test that will tell them which faction best suits them, but ultimately, they choose their faction.  Most young people elect to stay with their factions: their family, their friends, and all that is familiar.  A few decide to venture into the unknown and switch factions.  All "initiates," whether they are from a new faction or not, must go through a training period and a test in order to be finally accepted into the faction of their choosing.  Beatrice Prior's decision is a bit more complicated.  Her original test scores were inconclusive, and though she is able to hide it, she is labeled "divergent."  She leaves her quiet and simple life, and her Abnegation family, and she chooses the Dauntless faction.  Her training for her new faction is brutal, sometime life-threatening, but even more dangerous is her Divergent label.  With the help of some new friends, and a love-interest/instructor named Four, Beatrice (now called Tris) is determined to survive.  However, if she can survive the initiation, will she be able to survive the unrest between factions?

I may get plenty of hate-mail for writing this, but I liked Divergent  a great deal better than the Hunger Games.  I liked the idea of the factions (I constantly thought about which one I would have chosen, and it changed several times as I read the book).  Also, in Divergent, there was no love triangle (of which I have grown quite weary).  I also liked, and related to, the characters much better in this novel.  I found Tris to be much stronger (and less whiny) than Katniss.  Okay, I'll quit comparing... but in my defense, it's hard not to compare dystopian novels.  I found this book very political, but nothing too over-the-top as to discourage or overwhelm young adult readers.  During an action-packed climax scene in which an army of faction members have been brain-washed to kill, I recall images and footage of the Nazi army.  This book was exciting from the first chapter.  It was extremely hard to put down, and I have recommended this already to a ton of people!  When Divergent's sequel, Insurgent, is released on May 1st, I will be the bookstore waiting!!

Book Review: Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I need to begin with an embarrassing admission, I have never read a John Green novel.  Why, you may ask? The answer to that is simply, I don't know.  My students rave about him but I have just never gotten around to it.  After reading "Fault in Our Stars" however, I am moving his books up to the top of my "to read" list.
This story is not typical of what I read, I have always (for as long as I can remember) been drawn to paranormal and dystopian type of books.  I am not sure if this book has converted me to a realistic fiction fan, or just a John Green fan.
We follow Hazel, who is not typical 16 year old  for many reasons, the least of which is that she has Stage IV Thyroid Cancer.  At the encouragement of her parents, she attends a support group for kids that are living and dealing with cancer, and while she hates going, it is here that her life is irrevocably changed forever.  It was at support group one week that Hazel ( later to be known as Hazel Grace) meets Augustus Waters.  Who not only understands her, but encourages her to not only live her life, but to be a "part" of life as well.  They form a bond that no one person or "thing" can break, that of true friendship and of love.  We get to follow their journey as they try to be "normal".  I particularly love the character of Hazel. I love that she is honest, honest about her disease and what is going to happen to her, honest about what her future holds and honest, beyond a shadow of a doubt, with Augustus.  It is heart wrenching at times but also beautiful and refreshing to read and the grace with which she uses the word "terminal" makes me wish that I could be that strong.
I absolutely loved this book (which I know is tough to tell), the writing was amazingly simple, yet beautifully complex.  As someone who works with high school kids, I can appreciate and understand her need for an "ending". As was Hazel and Augustus's final adventure, to get the ending they so needed, to know how it will end.  Which, when coming from their perspective, makes the story that much more heartbreaking and wonderful.  This book is one that I highly recommend.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Book Give-away from the Nostalgic Librarian!
The Nostalgic Librarian is hosting a give-away of several YA titles.  Check out this link!

Dark Shadows Official Trailer

Dark Shadows comes out on May 11th!  Here is the official trailer.  I'm sure there will be some devoted Dark Shadows fans who will be strongly opinionated about the film, but I, for one, and thoroughly excited by anything that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp do together!  ~  Nicky

Friday, March 16, 2012

Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
This is our current selection for our high school reading group, Books a la Carte.  We obviously try to choose books that appeal to a wide range of high school readers.  This one was selected because of the film's recent release.  The film is popular among our high school students because of Danielle Radcliffe (who I will forever refer to as "Harry Potter"), who plays the lead role of Arthur Kipps.

Arthur Kipps is an aspiring young man working for an attorney in London.  He is sent to a remote village nestled among the moors of England to attend the funeral and settle the estate of a reclusive client, Mrs. Alice Drablow.  Arthur is frustrated and confused by the villagers' odd response to the deceased woman, but after spending some time in the isolated residence, Eel Marsh House, he is begins to understand their terror, and ultimately, their tragedy.

I love this style of writing... very detailed and descriptive.  Although some of our students have said that they had a hard time getting through the first few chapters, I was immediately captivated.  Hill draws you in and makes you feel a part of the setting.  One evening, I was reading this at home after my children had gone to bed and my husband had gone out for the evening.  Several chapter in, I was too creeped out to go back downstairs.  Keep in mind, my house is nearly 100 years old and makes a tremendous amount of creaking and other odd noises.  The shutters outside would bang against the house, and I would jump in my chair.  I imagine this was Hill's intention, and she did a masterful job of the old-fashioned ghost story!  I am curious to see how it translated to film.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

AASL Fall Forum

AASL Fall Forum
October 12-13, 2012
We are planning on going to this Forum at the Pittsburgh satellite site.  I am so glad that they are offering this so close by, as it is difficult for us (both of us have young children), to travel far for conferences and workshops.  This topic is perfect for us, as well, since we are trying to reach students through technology, to bring them into our book group, and we are also trying to get them to use technology to review books/ conduct book discussions, etc.  We are also working on a collaborative project with an English teacher in which students are creating book trailers rather than completing the traditional book report... it's so fun seeing how creative all the kids are!  Many of them have gone above and beyond the project requirements and have created outstanding trailers!  So... if anyone ever hears about conferences or workshops taking place in or around western Pennsylvania, please let us know!  Thanks          ~  Nicky

Books a la Carte

As a way to get our students more involved in the library we have created a lunch time book club (Books a la Carte).  We choose a book to read, and then once a month we meet during all lunch periods to discuss the book.  Lunch is provided by us and varies every month, from soup to walking tacos! Nothing is out of bounds when it comes to food.  The choosing of the books has proven to be one the biggest challenges we face.  We are constantly surprised at what our students like and don't like and just how honest, and passionate they are when then talk about books.  This is by far a day we look forward each month.  A lunch to spend with our kids who truly love reading and books.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

This is a project we would like to do with our high school book club next year.  I think it would be a great keepsake for the kids... especially the seniors!  ~ Nicky