Sunday, July 8, 2007

YA Lit Blog: Reading Rants

Reading Rants! Started out as a blog but is now a full-fledged website! It is maintained by Jennifer Hubert (but designed by Andrew Mutch) Middle School Librarian at the Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School in Greenwish Village, NY.

I have been a dedicated reader of this site for a long time because Erin Gaines (Youth Services Librarian at the Temple Public Library), one of my first great Librarian mentors showed it to me and I have loved it ever since.

The reasons I like it are as follows: 1) Jennifer Hubert LOVES YA literature and it shows—she seems to be as much a kid as I am, and I’m as much a kid as most of my YA patrons, so I feel she’s a kindred spirit; 2) Jennifer Hubert is no B.S.-er—she doesn’t writer her reviews to kiss author butt; 3) the site has just EXPLODED and become super-interactive and even more accessible to teens than ever (they can even have their own login); 4) Jennifer’s site has SPREAD and has actually been made into a book. Woo HOO!!!

YA Lit Blog: The Goddess Librarian

The Goddess Librarian is a blog constructed and maintained by a Young Adult Librarian from New York whose real name isn’t published. According to her Myspace page, she has a Master’s degree in Library Science from SUNY College at Albany (1998) and a Bachelor’s Degree in English from SUNY College at Geneseo (1997). Her blog includes links to other blogs (including blogs maintained by actual YA authors—YAY!), to her personal home page, her Myspace page, other teen book review sites and “top ten books.”

I like her blog because she seems to read a wide variety of YA literature and she doesn’t seem afraid to give good, reflective critiques—even letting herself be negative when applicable. I think this takes bravery. My only criticism is that she doesn’t post very often. However, she mentions that she is a working mom—and I can SO relate!

The Lightning Thief

Riordan, Rick. (2005) The Lightning Thief. New York: Miramax. ISBN 0786838655.

Percy Jackson is an awkward kid. A trouble maker. But he doesn’t necessarily mean to be, but he just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. When he gets kicked out of yet ANOTHER boarding school, his mother takes him to spend the summer at the beach. When a strangely tempestuous, freak storm comes upon them, Percy’s mother decides it’s time to head home and it’s just about then that Percy’s best friend Grover reveals that he is, in fact, a satyr. As if that wasn’t enough for one day, as they are making their escape from the storm, they are suddenly attacked by a strange, and very LARGE, creature which ends up being a Minotaur.

Percy’s mother is killed in the attack, but he manages to get away. Just far enough to make it to Camp Half-Blood where he discovers he is a demi-god, half human and half god. Percy learns that he is the son of Poseidon, god of water, and that water heals him.

He begins to train and actually excels at it. Finally, he is given a quest—a great honor—in which he must find who stole Zeus’ thunderbolt and where the heck it is. He is warned that he, and his friends Annabeth (Athena’s daughter) and Grover, will be in constant and grave danger—Zeus’ and Poseidon’s enemies are everywhere. In the end, he must cross the United States, not to mention the River Styx, before he finds the missing lightning. But he does and restores peace to the god.

All’s well that ends well. Percy’s mother was not, in fact, killed by the accident and now gives him the choice to stay at Camp Half-Blood year round.

The language is accessible and the plot is action-packed. However, this book didn’t read YA to me. In fact, it was even tamer than Harry Potter most of the time. Maybe it was the length and the fight scenes that made someone think it might be YA. Or maybe it’s geared to the earlier, middle, ages. I don’t know. As a story, it was a fun read, with nearly constant action and conflict…

BUT, In My Honest Opinion, it did seem like a thinly veiled mythology lesson at times. A fun and fictionalized lesson, but a lesson nonetheless. Sometimes, didacticism seemed to push back the curtain of plot and character.

Still, I’ll read the sequel.

Reviews for The Lightning Thief (per

From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 5-9–An adventure-quest with a hip edge...There's lots of zippy review of Greek myth and legend, and characters like Medusa, Procrustes, Charon, and the Eumenides get updates. Some of the Labors of Heracles or Odysseus's adventures are recycled, but nothing seems stale, and the breakneck pace keeps the action from being too predictable. Percy is an ADHD, wise-cracking, first-person narrator. Naturally, his real quest is for his own identity. Along the way, such topics as family, trust, war, the environment, dreams, and perceptions are raised. There is subtle social critique for sophisticated readers who can see it. Although the novel ends with a satisfying conclusion (and at least one surprise), it is clear that the story isn't over. The 12-year-old has matured and is ready for another quest, and the villain is at large. Readers will be eager to follow the young protagonist's next move.

From Booklist
Gr. 6-9. The escapades of the Greek gods and heroes get a fresh spin in the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, about a contemporary 12-year-old New Yorker who learns he's a demigod. ...Riordan's fast-paced adventure is fresh, dangerous, and funny. Percy is an appealing, but reluctant hero, the modernized gods are hilarious, and the parallels to Harry Potter are frequent and obvious. Because Riordan is faithful to the original myths, librarians should be prepared for a rush of readers wanting the classic stories.


SLJ Best Book
NYT Notable Book
Child Magazine Best Book
TLA Bluebonnet Award Nominee


Lynch, Chris. (2005). Inexcusable. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN-13:9781416939726.

Keir Sarafian is a good guy. He’s a good guy. "I’m a good guy." That’s what he tells himself. He also tells himself that his behavior is normal. The behavior of a normal, good guy.

But he’s not. And somewhere deep inside, he knows it:

Something changed in those weeks and months heading out of my high school life. Things were different. I was different. Physically different.

After football and soccer seasons were behind me and party season was in full session, I became aware of myself and my appetites. Myself as appetite.

Following his enabling father’s example, he starts to dabble in appetite. Dabble in drugs and drinking.

And little by little, we get to see the results of Keir’s appetite and his loss of control over it. Keir has raped his friend Gigi. He doesn’t understand that it was rape.

Why doesn’t she hear what I’m saying? Why don’t my words say what I’m saying?

“I’m sorry. Gigi, I said I’m sorry, remember? I didn’t do it.”
“Let me out of this room, Keir.”
“Why don’t you hear me? I’m not keeping you here. I’m just trying to get you to listen to me, and you keep not listening to me.”

“Can I just try one more time? Huh, Gigi? Okay, there was sex, we had sex, all right?”
Instantly, she covers her ears and spins to the floor like a corkscrew. She remains there, clinging to two fistfuls of hair on either side of her head.
“We had sex and okay, it wasn’t perfect, but I love you.”
It is like blood. Her beautiful liquid chocolate eyes are like spurting blood as she looks up at me now.
“Don’t do that,” I beg. “Please, Gigi, don’t do that to me.”
“It wasn’t perfect. But you love me,” she drones.

“That’s right,” I say.
“You raped me,” she says, in a flat, quiet tone that is like an almighty scream.

“Stop with that. That… word…is so wrong. That word does not belong here. It does not belong in the same room with us. It does not belong in the same world with me and you. That word, Gigi, belongs someplace else, with criminals and deviates and psychopaths, but not here, not with us, not with me loving you like you know I do. I did not. I could not, ever. You did not say that, Gigi, okay?”
“You raped me.”
“What are you saying? What are you doing, Gigi? This is me, here. This is me.”
“That’s right, Keir. You. …How could you do that to me, Keir? You? Me?”
… “No, no, no, no. Do you know how far away that is from me? That did not happen. Why aren’t you listening? I could never make that happen. Especially not to you. Not to anyone, but especially not to you. You know that. You knew that. Just know it again. Please. Please? Know me again.”
“I said no.”
“You know what happened. You slept with me. Right here. Right there,… Slept, Gigi. You slept with me, which is even better than sex, with I would trade for the sex a hundred thousand times over.”
“I said no.”

“I love you. That is what matters.”
“I said no. That is what matters.”

How could it get so wrong? How could she not know that I would kill anyone who ever did that to Gigi Boudakian?

The writing in this book is confusingly skillful. Chris Lynch uses accessible language and simple expressions to capture the audience. The flip-flopping from past to present wasn’t as well done as some other juxtapositions I have read—it left me feeling lost in space and time sometimes. But I’m not sure that wasn’t deliberate. The whole book felt like a weird nightmare or drunken haze. Maybe that was his point?

Content-wise, this book was a tough one for me. The first time I read it, I was almost on his side. I wanted to feel sorry for him. To see how obsession can push someone past the limit. How easy it is to love someone too much. To hug something so much you crush and kill it. To love someone so much and want to possess them so badly you can’t see or think clearly. But that isn’t love.

Tricky, tricky, Mr. Lynch.

Upon my second and third read, I started to remember the excuses my abusers made. One said, “I’m trying to teach you how to say no to boys. I’m trying to show you what some guys will try.” The same one said, “I just want to love on you a little bit” and he treated me like I was his favorite. Telling me he loved me. And for a long time, I thought that was the only love of which I was worthy.

But that’s not love. That’s destructive possession. It’s sickness. Love involves sacrificing your own desires for the comfort of another.

I was impressed by this book. By Lynch’s skill in making such a monster seem so human. It blurs the argument. But I was not impressed with Gigi. Her behavior and reactions were unrealistic, unbelievable, In My Honest Opinion. She seemed complacent during the rape and so overpoweringly vocal afterward. I’m not saying that that couldn’t or wouldn’t happen. Everyone reacts to rape differently. But I’m saying that it makes me wonder how much research Lynch did before writing Gigi’s part.

Reviews for Inexcusable (via

From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 9 Up–Keir is a senior who fancies himself a lovable rogue. So do his widowed father, his older sisters, and his classmates. He likes being liked; he just doesn't do well with involvement. Keir would never do anything to hurt anyone intentionally–or would he? ...Keir's first-person narrative chillingly exposes the rationalization process that the troubled teen goes through to persuade himself and those around him of his innocence. Characters are clearly developed through immediately post-rape chapters that alternate with flashbacks of Keir's experiences and perceptions leading up to that point. As compelling as Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak (Farrar, 1999), though with a different point of view, this finely crafted and thought-provoking page-turner carefully conveys that it is simply inexcusable to whitewash wrongs, and that those responsible should (and hopefully will) pay the price.

From Booklist
*Starred Review* "The way it looks is not the way it is," begins Lynch's bone-chilling new novel. It looks like a date rape, and in the novel's first scene, set just after the alleged crime, teen Gigi accuses narrator Keir, whose terrifying denial ("I am a good guy . . and so I could not have done this") sets the book's tone…. Teens may doubt Keir's reliability as a narrator, but his self-recognition, in a final, searing scene, rings true. Here, and throughout this unforgettable novel, Lynch raises fierce, painful questions about athletic culture, family denial, violence, and rape, and readers will want to think and talk about them all. Where does personal responsibility begin? What defines a "good guy"? Are we all capable of monstrous things?

National Book Award Finalist


Anderson, Laurie Halse. (1999). Speak. New York: Puffin. ISBN 0142407321.

Melinda Sordino begins the semester as the school outcast. Someone found out she was the one who called the cops who came to break up the end of the summer party three weeks ago. No one will talk to her. Not even her best friends. In fact, her circle of friends has broken and migrated one at a time to other groups. The only person who speaks to her is Heather, a new girl from Ohio.

Melinda feels so changed from who she was just a few months ago. Back when she was bubbly and active in school. Back when the roses plastered all over her room were a reflection of who she was. Back when life was more than just darkness and silence.

Her new friend Heather is so fresh. So lively. So everything that Melinda used to be but no longer is. Melinda can’t explain what has happened to shatter her old self, but she implies that it might have something to do with someone she calls “IT.”

I see IT in the hallway. IT goes to Merryweather. IT is walking with Aubrey Cheerleader. IT is my nightmare and I can’t wake up. IT sees me. IT smiles and winks. Good thing my lips are stitched together or I’d throw up.

Melinda’s grades are slipping. She has no friends. She has no hope. The only thing she has is this lame art project Mr. Freeman gave her. She has to create the perfect tree. But try as she might, she can’t find the medium she needs to get done what should be an easy project. The tree is just as messed up as she is.

Melinda spends her time in an abandoned closet she found while roaming the halls. To make it her own, she puts up a poster of Maya Angelou over the mirror.

Slowly things are getting better. Ivy is talking to her again because she’s in Melinda’s art class. And through this dumb tree assignment, Melinda is finding ways to express the nothing she feels inside. But she passes out while dissecting a frog and as she does, we get yet another hint as to what has changed her:

Our frog lies on her back. Waiting for a prince to come and princessify her with a smooch? I stand over her with my knife. Ms. Keen’s voice fades to a mosquito whine. My throat closes off. It is hard to breathe. I put out my hand to steady myself against the table. David pins her froggy hands to the dissection tray. He spreads her froggy legs and pins her froggy feet. I have to slice open her belly. She doesn’t say a word. She is already dead. A scream starts in my gut—I can feel the cut, smell the dirt, leaves in my hair.

Then, IT shows up again, whispering the word “Freshmeat” in Melinda’s ear.

I can smell him over the noise of the metal shop and I drop my poster and the masking tape and I want to throw up and I can smell him and I run and he remembers and he knows. He whispers in my ear.

We know. Well, I know.

And we learn his name:

Siohban: “It’s him. Andy Evans just walked in. I think he’s looking for you Em.”

I turn around. They are talking about IT. Andy. Andy Evans. Short stabby name…. It feels like the Prince of Darkenss has swept his cloak over the table. The lights dim. I shiver.

Suddenly, Heather gives up on trying to break Melinda out of her shell and tells her that she doesn’t want to be friends with her anymore and that she needs professional help because Melinda is “the most depressed person” she’s ever met. She tells Melinda that she can’t eat lunch with her anymore.

The principal calls Melinda’s parents in for a conference about her grades and her class-cutting. She gets in-school suspension. Guess who’s there? Yep. Andy. Instead of feeling sick, she feels anger.

I want to kill him.

Melinda has to watch her ex-best friend, Rachel and Andy Evans becoming an item and she can’t even warn him. She can feel changes happening inside her. Making the tree has awakened a beast. Heather comes over to ask for her help, but Melinda kicks her out of her room. Then the next day, she decides to finally do what she can to repair her friendship with Rachel. She starts talking about Andy and because the librarian shhh-es them, they start to pass notes.

Are you still mad at me? I write.

No, I guess not. It was a long time ago…The party was a little wild… But it was dumb to call the cops…We could have just left.

I didn’t call the cops to break up the party… I called…them because some guy raped me. Under the trees. I didn’t know what to do… I was stupid and drunk and didn’t know what was happening and then he hurt… raped me. When the police came, everyone was screaming, and I was just too scared, so I cut through some back yards and just walked home.
Oh my God, I am so sorry…Why didn’t you tell me?

I couldn’t tell anybody.


…Andy Evans.

But Rachel gets up, calls Melinda a sick and jealous liar. But Ivy shows Melinda a bathroom stall where many girls with different handwriting have written warnings about Andy Evans.

Finally, Melinda feels some healing. It’s the end of the year and she wants to go back to her closet to retrieve her Maya Angelou poster but gets trapped in there by Andy Evans. He tells her she has a big mouth. When she tries to leave, he locks the door and attacks her, trying to rape her again. But this time is different. She is different. She speaks. A loud, resounding NO “explodes” from her. She breaks the mirror behind the poster and holds a shard of it to Andy Evans’ neck. Someone heard her NO and pounds on the locked door. The entire lacrosse team is there. Witnesses. And help.

The semester over, the tree finished, Melinda healed and now powerful has found her voice again.


I would love to go on and on about the writing of this book, but the content is so overwhelmingly intense that it is hard to see past it to the mechanics. All I know is that every detail in this book seemed real. Every person, every smell, every color, every sound, every emotion. I don’t know how she did it exactly, but Laurie Halse Anderson did that. She made it real. This could have been just another Disney-ized, Lifetime movie (isn’t it ironic that they made a Lifetime movie out of this book?) account of a date rape, but it is so much more than that. She made it a nightmare. A year long walking nightmare in someone’s life. It’s an account of how just a thin line, a split-second evil, can change someone’s life so completely. How it can turn them into someone new. Someone broken. It has nothing to do with being a girl and being overpowered by a male—there are other ways of raping people—it is about invasion. About breaking trust. Crossing a line.

I hate it when people call books like this a “problem” novel. As though putting it into that category makes it somehow cliché like those books that come in series about different problems, all having nearly identical covers. You know the ones. Yeah, rape is a problem and so hard to define and explain. It seems like every person you meet has a different idea of where the line is. Where it goes from playing-hard-to-get to an invasion.

This happened to me over and over. All my life. From an early age, I trusted because I wanted desperately to be loved. And in my bad luck, I stumbled upon creeps who took advantage of my “father hunger” and pushed the limits physically. The one time I told—I spoke—I got a letter from the authorities saying that they had investigated and had “found no credible evidence of abuse.”

By the time I was a teenager, I figured it was something in my wiring. That I had and was bringing it upon myself. That it was somehow my destiny. That, and I didn’t know any other way to feel love. So, I let myself be used. I knew I should, but I never said no. What was the point? After years of letting myself be used so that I could feel just one moment of someone wanting me, even if it was just my body—even though after nearly every encounter, I cried myself to sleep—I finally realized that it wasn’t me. That I was a big girl now. That I was worthy of love for other reasons.

This book called back so many of my adolescent emotions. Not of high school—I was home schooled. Not of friends—I never really liked girls that much, they seemed to get on my nerves. But of the invasion. Of the silence. The darkness. The loneliness. I’m so glad that Laurie Halse Anderson wrote this book. To show the darkness, the abyss that exists and the sunlight and healing on the other side. Just the fact that healing can happen and that empowerment is ours for the taking.

Reviews for Speak (via

From Publishers Weekly
In a stunning first novel, Anderson uses keen observations and vivid imagery to pull readers into the head of an isolated teenager. ...Through the first-person narration, the author makes Melinda's pain palpable: "I stand in the center aisle of the auditorium, a wounded zebra in a National Geographic special." Though the symbolism is sometimes heavy-handed, it is effective. The ending, in which her attacker comes after her once more, is the only part of the plot that feels forced. But the book's overall gritty realism and Melinda's hard-won metamorphosis will leave readers touched and inspired. Ages 12-up.

From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up-This powerful novel deals with a difficult yet important topic-rape. ...Anderson expresses the emotions and the struggles of teenagers perfectly. Melinda's pain is palpable, and readers will totally empathize with her. This is a compelling book, with sharp, crisp writing that draws readers in, engulfing them in the story.

A frightening and sobering look at the cruelty and viciousness that pervade much of contemporary high school life, as real as today's headlines. ...The plot is gripping and the characters are powerfully drawn, but it is its raw and unvarnished look at the dynamics of the high school experience that makes this a novel that will be hard for readers to forget. (Fiction. 12+)

Having broken up an end-of-summer party by calling the police, high-school freshman Melinda Sordino begins the school year as a social outcast. She's the only person who knows the real reason behind her call: she was raped at the party by Andy Evans, a popular senior at her school. Slowly, with the help of an eccentric and understanding art teacher, she begins to recover from the trauma, only to find Andy threatening her again. Melinda's voice is distinct, unusual, and very real as she recounts her past and present experiences in bitterly ironic, occasionally even amusing vignettes. In her YA fiction debut, Anderson perfectly captures the harsh conformity of high-school cliques and one teen's struggle to find acceptance from her peers. Melinda's sarcastic wit, honesty, and courage make her a memorable character whose ultimate triumph will inspire and empower readers.

National Book Award Finalist
ALA Quick Pick
Edgar Allan Poe Award Finalist
SCBWI Golden Kite Award
ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults
Printz Honor Book
Siver Book Award Nominee


Funke, Cornelia. (2003). Inkheart. United Kingdom: Chicken House. ISBN-13: 9780439709101.

Meggie loves books. Maybe the only person who loves books as much as she is her father Mortimer—or as most call him, Mo—who is a bookbinder of the classic variety. Meggie and her father have lived together alone since Meggie’s mother disappeared mysteriously nine years earlier, but that was so long ago, Meggie seems to only know life with her father and with their precious books. Not only do they love stories, but they see the physical book as sacred. But as much as they worship books, Meggie can’t understand why her father refuses to read aloud to her.

One night, during a storm, Meggie notices a man outside their house. She runs to tell Mo, but is interrupted by a knock at the door. She overhears her father talking to a man he calls Dustfinger and is perplexed as to why the stranger keeps calling Mo Silvertongue and talking about an evil man named Capricorn.

Early the next day, Mo packs up everything of value they can carry and sets off to spend some time with his wife’s sister, Meggie’s Aunt, Elinor near the south of Italy. While Mo says they are going away for vacation, Meggie knows that they are fleeing the pursuit of this mysterious Capricorn—though she has no idea why Capricorn would want her father.

Upon meeting Elinor, Meggie does, in fact, finally meet someone who loves books as much as Mo and herself. Elinor is a rich book collector. But she is moody and stern. And when Meggie overhears her father entrusting a very coveted book to Elinor’s secret library, she begins to become very suspicious, but she soon discovers what the mystery is about.

While Dustfinger, who has hitched a ride with Mo and Meggie, is giving them a performance, Capricorn’s men show up at Elinor’s house. They take Mo and the secret book—or so they think… Elinor switched it out. But now it’s up to Elinor and Meggie to save Mo. With Dustfinger’s help, they find Capricorn’s secret lair. They also discover the great secret of why Mo won’t read out loud—and why he is referred to as Silvertongue—because when he reads, characters from the stories come alive into the real world. But there’s a catch: There must be an exchange. A character comes here, but a real live person is taken to live in the story. This is how Meggie’s mother disappeared.

Through a long series of dangerous misadventures—and with the help of both Dustfinger, Fenoglio, the original author of Capricorn’s story and Farid, a boy Mo has brought from the story of 1001 Nights—Meggie finds a way to trick Capricorn, saving her father and finding her mother (who had been read back OUT of the story by another silvertongue, though one not as proficient in the art as she was recreated without the ability to speak). And she discovers that being a silvertongue is hereditary—she has the amazing ability herself!

This was a LONG book. Its plot had many twists and turns (so many that had it not been so exciting, might have come off as repetitive and tedious) and there were MANY peripheral characters with whom we spent maybe a tad too much time; but, in spite of its length, the tension never dulled and as a reader, I felt constantly swept along by the action and intrigue.

I was surprised to find out that this book was a translation and I have one word to say: Bravo! It was amazing story with rich description and powerful suspense—if translations are faded comparisons of originals, I’d hate to see how stimulating the original German version was. I can’t imagine it being much more exciting… they’d have to put a warning label.

Now, there are some things about it which made me scratch my head. At the beginning (actually, probably all the way through) I had a difficult time finding where the story was set historically. My first images were of a medieval house, but the next morning, I was surprised to see them jump into a van and drive away—where was the horse and carriage? Later, when we get to Elinor’s mansion, she has a security system complete with motion detectors and flood lights; she talks about having a cell phone; she reports the robbery of her house to the police.

The confusion only gets worse when we get to Capricorn’s compound. It’s supposed to be an abandoned village in the south of Italy, but it was hard to imagine an abandoned village having, again, a security system and floodlights and high-powered firearms along with dungeons and old stone cathedrals, etc.

Even when they go in search of Fenoglio, who’s supposed to be the modern-day author of the story from which Capricorn and the other characters have sprouted; he seems very medieval in his dress and language.

The other thing was Meggie’s age. Her speech and behavior at times made her seem much younger than a twelve-year old girl. Sometimes she seemed closer to nine or ten, then at other times, she seemed to react like a normal pre-teen. This impression forces me to think that perhaps this book would be better for juvenile readers. It is Potter-esque in its movements and length, but maybe the language is sometimes a little too archaic. Still, I’m not sure how many actual teens would get into the book since most kids like to read books where the protagonists are clearly slightly older than them.

It only makes me wonder if these things are inherent to the book, the story itself, or if perhaps these can be attributed to this being a translation. Either way, they were MINOR speedbumps in the tale. I was very envious of the power both Mo and Meggie had and would LOVE to be able to “read alive” many of the characters from the books I’ve read.

Reviews of Inkheart (via

From School Library Journal
Grade 4-8-Characters from books literally leap off the page in this engrossing fantasy. ...This "story within a story" will delight not just fantasy fans, but all readers who like an exciting plot with larger-than-life characters. Pair this title with Roderick Townley's The Great Good Thing (2001) and Into the Labyrinth (2002, both Atheneum) for a wonderful exploration of worlds within words.

From Booklist
Gr. 6-12. One dark night, a mysterious man called Dustfinger appears at the house where Meggie lives with her father, a bookbinder. Dustfinger's arrival sets in motion a long, complicated chain of events involving a journey, fictional characters brought to life, dangerous secrets revealed, threats of evil deeds, actual evil deeds, a long-lost relative found, and the triumph of creativity and courage. Despite the presence of several well-developed, sympathetic characters, the plot is often driven by the decidedly menacing, less-convincing villains. Although Meggie, one of the few young people in the book, remains the central character, she is not always in the forefront of the action or even on the scene. The points of view of sympathetic adult characters become increasingly important and more fully developed as the story progresses. Like many other fantasies, this will appeal to a broad age range, though the writing is far less child-centered than it is, for example, in the Harry Potter series.

Heart-stopping language that impel the reader...a true feast for anyone who has ever been lost in a book.

2004 Booksense Award

Looking for Alaska

Green, John. (2005). Looking For Alaska. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0525475060.

Miles leaves his Florida home with his parents for a boarding school in Alabama where his father went as a youth (and did his share of trouble making) in search of his chance at finding “The Great Perhaps.”

What he found was his roommate Chip—a.k.a the Colonel—and Alaska, “the hottest girl in school.” Both were weekenders (compared to the Weekday Warriors, rich kids who lived a the school during the week but went home to their country club lives on the weekends) and both were screwed up in their own ways. Especially Alaska, with her seemingly multiple personalities disorder.

It’s from Chip, Alaska and a few peripheral characters that Miles learns to smoke, drink, eat bufriedos (deep fried burritos, “proving that deep-frying always improves food”), pull great pranks and get ever closer to “The Great Perhaps” he was seeking when he arrived at Culver Creek. And because of his skinniness, they give him the nickname Pudge.

The only problem is, he’s in love with Alaska. Oh, sure, she appreciates him in her own way—upon meeting him, instead of shaking hands, she pulled down his shorts; when he got kicked out of class for staring out the window, in a show of solidarity, she walked out with him; and then later, she tells him he’s “adorable… Too bad I love my boyfriend.” Despite (or perhaps because of) her mixed messages—entirely in tune with the rest of her bi-polar behavior, the way she seems happy and excited one minute and blubberingly, angrily, dramatically crying the next—Miles is utterly fascinated with her. He is tormented by her relationship with her boyfriend with whom she seems to have long, tearful phone calls in the hallway and then ecstatic make-ups.

Alaska seems oblivious to Pudge’s feelings. She “finds” him a girlfriend—a Romanian student named Lara. And she parades her boyfriend, Jake, in front of him during a weekend visit, even telling Miles that Jake is “hung like a horse and a beautiful, sensual lover.” Miles knows he should hate Jake, but he’s too busy admiring, wanting “to be him” to hate him.

Instead, he throws himself into his new budding relationship with Lara, his homework and appreciating his new life, full of friends and activity. He even has his first experience with felatio—a sad attempt that had to be re-explained and demonstrated to both Miles and Lara on a tube of Crest Complete, after which Miles has a better SECOND experience.

When a late night drinking binge ends up with Miles and Alaska making out on the floor, the Colonel slurs, “This is going to end poorly.” They all pass out but are awakened again by Alaska slamming the door and begging them, half screaming, to distract The Eagle (Mr. Stiles, the principal) while she drives away because she has “to get out of here.” Instead of keeping her from driving drunk, they grab a handful of firecrackers and head out to create a diversion.

The next day the Eagle assembled all the students to the gymnasium to let them know that Alaska Young had died early that morning in a car accident.

Pudge and the Colonel spend the rest of the book trying to figure out whether or not Alaska’s death was truly an accident (Alaska speeding on a wet road on the way to put flowers on her mother’s grave) or whether she killed herself AND dealing with the fact that they both had a hand in her driving drunk (and if that had anything to do with the incident).

After one last elaborate prank in Alaska’s memory, the guys throw themselves into their studies and learn to let go of their lovely, lively and very messed up friend. But Miles was guaranteed not to forget her:

It was the central moment of Alaska’s life. When she cried and told me that she fucked everything up, I knew what she meant now. And when she said she failed everyone, I knew whom she meant now. It was the everything and the everyone of her life, and so I could not help but imagine it: I imagined a scrawny eight-year-old with dirty fingers, looking down at her mother, who I imagine was not breathing by then but wasn’t yet cold either. And in the time between dying and death, a little Alaska sat with her mother in silence. And then through the silence and my drunkenness, I caught a glimpse of her as she might have been. She must have come to feel so powerless, I thought, that the one thing she might have done—pick up the phone and call an ambulance—never even occurred to her. There comes a time when we realize that our parents cannot save themselves or save us, that everyone who wades through time eventually gets dragged out to sea by the undertow—that, in short, we are all going.

So she became impulsive, scared by her inaction into perpetual action…

First of all, there is nearly no organization to the plotline of this story. It flip-flops around and meanders from one random situation to another, like Christmas lights loosely strung together on a feeble thread. Further, the characters are flakey and unpredictable, their personalities shifting and changing constantly. The setting is a sleepy boarding school where the kids are so bored, they spend their time plotting and implementing elaborate, yet juvenile pranks. The account is peppered with curse words and seemingly random utterances that only show the flightiness of the characters personalities.

In other words, Looking for Alaska is an INCREDIBLE young adult book. Everything I said in the first paragraph of my reaction was a compliment. Adolescence is for many/most a time of flux where young people discover they can not depend on their previous perceptions of reality. The plot is disorganized, making it that much more realistic. A guy goes off to school, looking to break the monotony of living at home, and he finds just that.

The characters are flakey, flighty and unpredictable—and all people we’d love to have as friends. They are the outliers—the kids who don’t really fit in to any one group, pushing against the hegemony of the Weekday Warriors and the Eagle with their constant pranks and non-violent, subtle and sometimes silent protests. They are real and believable and likable.

The language is accessible but is not simple in the way that the reader (especially young readers) feel condescended to. Miles’ thoughts are ones we all have in those moments of self-discovery and world-questioning, so even his musing which can at times wax super-philosophical, is still understandable and applicable to the adolescent plight. The curse words were not in the least frivolous or gratuitous but rather skillfully used to heighten the emotion. Sometimes (especially when you’re discovering just how much power certain words can hold) the word “fuck” just can not be substituted. It only makes the story more real and rich.

Personally, I feel a great attachment to this story because I see so much of myself in the character Alaska. I spent most of my adolescence in a similar pattern of self-destruction and bi-polar tendencies. While my mother did not die, I had other demons with which I had to deal—for one, I was sexually abused most of my childhood by a stream of men I had come to trust—so, my behavior later as a teen was indicative of my searching to solidify the meaning of those early experiences. I had long struggled with the question of “Why didn’t you stop them?” And so, like Alaska I “became impulsive, scared by her inaction into perpetual action…” and became self-destructive and promiscuous. And like Alaska, I had several brushes with death—some of them self-inflicted.

Luckily, I survived. I’m in awe that a fictionalized story like Looking for Alaska could capture so much realistic emotion and behavior. Hopefully, it will touch young lives and give them an opportunity to share those experiences vicariously rather than having to live them out. And for those of whom it is too late, they’ll feel that they are not so alone after all.

Reviews for Looking for Alaska (per

From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up—From the very first page, tension fills John Green's Michael L. Printz Award-winning novel (Dutton, 2005). ...This novel is about real kids dealing with the pressures of growing up and feeling indestructible. Listeners will be riveted as the friends band together to deal with the catastrophic events that plague their junior year, and rejoice at their triumphs. Jeff Woodman clearly delineates the voices for each character in an age-appropriate, smart-alecky manner, injecting great emotion while managing not to be overly sentimental. This story belongs in all collections for older young adults, especially those who like Chris Crutcher, David Klass, and Terry Trueman.

Publishers Weekly
Readers will only hope that this is not the last word from this promising new author.

Michael L. Printz Award
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
ALA Quick Pick
School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

The City of Ember

DuPrau, Jeanne. (2003). The City of Ember. New York: Random House. ISBN 0375822747.

In a desperate attempt to save humanity, two builders construct a city in which to house a large group of people for a span of 200 years—a self-sufficient city—and leaves a set of “Instructions” on how to exit the city in a time-locked box with the Mayor. It’s the Mayor’s job to explain and pass the box on to her successor, which she does. But by the time the seventh Mayor comes along, he is desperate to open the box—having been stricken by a mysterious “coughing disease,” and hoping the box will hold some secret cure. Before he has the chance to pass on the secret, he dies and the time-locked box ends up in the back of a closet until one day, unbeknownst to anyone, the lock “quietly clicks open.”

Flash forward another fifty or so years:
Lina and Doon are twelve year old children who, having finished their Last Day of school in the city of Ember are awaiting their “assignments” to work for the city. When they both get jobs they hate, they decide to trade—Lina getting her desperately coveted position of Messenger and Doon taking Lina’s assignment of “Pipeworks Laborer” so that he can be closer to the city’s underground generator. Doon is concerned about the city’s constant electrical blackouts—the lights being the city’s only source of illumination—and has “ideas” on how to prevent them.

The failing generator is not the only problem in the city. Supplies are running low. Canned foods such as pineapple, applesauce and peaches are mythical children’s stories of the past, while the greenhouse workers struggle to keep up with the city’s needs. There are rumors of something beyond the city, beyond the dark Unknown Regions, but no one is brave enough—or allowed—to venture there.

One day, Lina finds her little sister Poppy chewing on a piece of paper that seems to have come from a strange locked box she has found. Loving puzzles, Lina sets about trying to decipher the document. She soon realizes that the paper may be the “Instructions” on how to get out of Ember and she and her friend Doon begin to investigate. In the mean time, they discover that the Mayor is hoarding a secret cache of supplies and is an accessory to a black marketer. They decide it is time to find the way out of Ember—to find help. They write a note to tell where they are going, hoping they’ll be long gone before their plot is discovered.

After a terrifying river ride and a steep climb, Lina, Doon and Poppy find a strange world of Light—they’re SAVED! But caring for the citizens of their lost city, they go back and throw a bundle—a note tied to a rock—down to the city of Ember:

Dear People of Ember,
We came down the river from the Pipeworks and found the way to another place. It is green here and very big. Light comes from the sky. You must follow the instructions in this message and come on the river. Bring food with you. Come as quickly as you can.
Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow

When I first started reading this book, it reminded me so much of The Giver—the sequestered community, the ceremony of community-assigned roles, the disappointment at assignment—I almost put it down, tempted to call DuPrau a wanna-be. However, the plot filled with mystery and intrigue was too strong for me to let go, especially since the reader is privy to information the citizens of Ember do not know—that it is an underground city and that their situation is the result of the failings of a madman, the seventh mayor. The whole time, I as a reader wanted to jump into the story and scream a the citizens not to be afraid. To be brave and to venture further into the Unknown Regions. Even after Lina and Doon begin to have suspicions about the river being the way out, they sit on their secret for so long I wanted to throttle them.

This frustration-inducing procrastination (motivation by caution and skepticism, of course) only heightened the tension and suspense—and in the meantime, we got to see just how dire the situation was becoming… by discovering that the current Mayor was corrupt and that the mechanics entrusted with the daily running of the generators did not only not understand how the machine worked but didn’t know how to fix it either.

DuPrau is skilful in her use of language—she keeps it simple but alludes to traditions and foreign expression just enough to make us believe in a civilization which because it has been isolated, hasn’t changed much in over 200 years, but which does have its own history.

The characters are simple and somewhat naïve, but that only makes the story even more realistic because having lived and procreated amongst themselves, wouldn’t they start to suffer both from genetic drift and from “sheltered child” syndrome (where a lack of exposure to other cultures results in a child-like mentality)?

The story was very exciting to me because I grew up in the mountain wilderness of Arkansas. I lived in my grandparents’ house where we had no electricity, no running water and no telephone. I played in the woods, splashing half-naked in our creek, pretending to be a member of a lost and now indigenous civilization. So, reading books like The City of Ember just calls back all those emotions and imaginary visions of my childhood. That is my perspective as an adult.

I can see how a young adult might be drawn to this story (even if it is a little young) because almost all teens and pre-teens feel trapped by their reality and would LOVE to discover that the future of civilization depended on their “finding a way out” of their imprisoned existence.

Reviews of The City of Ember (via

From School Library Journal
Grade 4-7–This truly superb audio recording of the novel by Jeane DuPrau (Random, 2003) takes place in the dark city of Ember, a decaying place with no natural light surrounded by the vast Unknown. Although ancestors had arranged for information on leaving Ember to be made available after the inhabitants have spent 200 years there, a corrupt mayor lost the information many years before the novel begins. Two hundred and forty-one years later, Ember's electrical lighting frequently fails, supplies are dwindling, and the populace is growing increasingly frightened. Twelve-year-old Doon and his acquaintance Lina are intent on finding a way to save Ember. After Lina finds a mysterious and fragmented paper titled "Instructions for Egress," they think they have a way out. Can they escape from the villainous mayor and his soldiers? Can they figure out the missing letters and words in the message? Do they find their way out of Ember and up to a post-apocalyptic Earth?

From Booklist
Gr. 5-7. ...Life in this postholocaust city is well limned--the frequent blackouts, the food shortage, the public panic, the search for answers, and the actions of the powerful, who are taking selfish advantage of the situation. Readers will relate to Lina and Doon's resourcefulness and courage in the face of ominous odds.

Lonestar Reading List
ALA Notable Children's Award

The First Part Last

Johnson, Angela. (2003). The First Part Last. New York: Simon Pulse. ISBN-13:9780689849237.


Things have to change.

I’ve been thinking about it. Everything. And when Feather opens her eyes and looks up at me, I already know there’s change. But I figure if the world were really right, humans would live life backward and do the first part last. They’d be all knowing in the beginning and innocent in the end.

Bobby’s got a brand new baby girl, Feather. But Bobby is a typical city kid who’d rather spend his time hanging out with his friends, K-Boy and J.L. Where’s the baby’s mother? And weren’t they planning on giving the baby up for adoption? Wasn’t that supposed to be the smarter decision? So they could both go to college? Then, why is the baby-fresh Feather lying on Bobby’s stomach?

Fred and Mary sat real still, and for a while I thought what I just told them about Nia being pregnant had turned both of them to stone.

It had been a long time since either of them ever agreed on anything.

So I waited. I waited to hear how they’d been talking to me for years about this. How we all talked about respect and responsibility. How Fred and me had taken the ferry out to Staten Island and talked about sex, to and from the island. And didn’t we go together and get me the condoms? What the hell about those pamphlets Mary put beside my bed about STDs and teenage pregnancy?

How did this happen? Where was my head? Where was my sense? What the hell were we going to do?

And then, not moving and still quiet, my pops just starts to cry.

But all of it was going to be okay. Bobby’s and Nia’s parents had promised to help with the baby. Nia says, “Yeah, I know—but in the end, it’s all up to us… I don’t want to do it… I don’t want to be anybody’s mother. I’m not done being a kid myself. I’m way too young and so are you.”

The First Part Last is about Bobby and Nia—smart high-schoolers with plans for the future who know all about how babies are made and how to protect themselves. They both have parents who are supportive of birth control (how else do K-Boy and J.L. stay stocked up with condoms other than the basket of rubbers under Bobby’s sink… put there by his moms?). But still, they end up pregnant.

At first, they plan to keep the baby. A hybrid of the two of them, a personification of their love for each other. But Nia’s no dummy. She wants to go to college and she’s seen how hard it is to follow your dreams with a baby hanging on. So, they decide to put the baby up for adoption. A hard decision, but nothing compared to how hard their lives would be trying to stumble through it with the added responsibility of a baby.

So, why does Bobby now have a baby in his arms? Well, because this book is written in alternating chapters juxtaposing between the “now” and the “then”, we don’t know why until the end of the book: Eclampsia (also known as pregnancy-induced hypertension) has forced Nia to have the baby and has caused her to have a stroke. Now that Nia is in a “vegetative” state and living in a nursing home, Bobby decides not to go through with the adoption:

“Bobby, the baby…”
“Feather. Her name is Feather.”
“We have to think in the end what’s best for her. Are you ready for this? Do you know what raising a baby entails?”
I look at the adoption papers stacked in front of me, then fold them in half before I tear them.
“No, I don’t know anything about raising a kid. I’m sixteen and none of those people on the wall look like the kind of family me and Feather’s gonna be. But I’m doing it.”
The social worker’s head wrinkles up.
“you don’t have to do it. This baby is wanted. There’s a family that wants her. They’re set up to take her and love her—”
“But I love her, and even though I’m not set up for her, she’s mine. And I’m hers.”

This was the first young adult novel I ever read. Lucky for me, I happened upon an award-winner and a precious gem of literary merit in every sense of the words. In my honest opinion. The language is accessible but complex and while the book is short, every chapter is so pregnant with meaning that we feel we really know the characters. While the juxtaposition seems challenging at first glance, the style only heightens the tension and emotion. We spend the book getting to see Bobby worship every detail of his newborn baby girl, never being sure why he has her and why he’s alone until the end—at which point, the reader can’t help but mourning Nia as she slips into her “persistent vegetative” state and misses out on the life she was willing to give up her first-born baby for. For the chance to go on to college and build a life ready for babies to come into.

This book is particularly important to me because when I was nineteen, I had to face a similar decision. I went to college at age 16 (having graduated from an accelerated school) and was “taking a break” in order to experience the real world (ahem, in other words making more time for partying). I ended up pregnant at 19. Since I was the daughter of a single, teen-aged mother, I didn’t want to repeat all the hardships I saw my mother go through. That, and I had hopes and dreams for my life. On the other hand, I had been lonely for a long time and saw this baby as an opportunity to have someone in my life all the time—someone who had no choice but to love me—and it seemed like the only alternatives presented were to keep it and raise it on food stamps or abort it and move on. A few months later, stranded and homeless, I was presented with yet another alternative I hadn’t considered.

I found an amazing couple to adopt the baby. They were wonderful and it was an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding experience for me. I realized the reason I hadn’t considered adoption an option was because it had always been presented as a sad, depressing one. I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life wondering what the baby was doing and whether it missed or hated me. I was ignorant of all the different kinds of adoption out there—like the semi-open one I ended up choosing.

That’s one of the things I like most about this book. These young kids decide that adoption is best for everyone. That even though it would be hard to give it up and to wonder how it would turn out, the baby would have a chance at a very comfortable, secure life (instead of scraping by all the time) and the parents could go back to college, having gotten a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card—a second chance—which would fuel and motivate them to make wise decisions for the rest of their lives. That’s the part I could relate to.

In the end, I applaud Bobby’s decision. He knew that he didn’t “know nothin’.” And that being a father was going to be hell, but it would be a better existence than knowing the one part left of his beloved Nia, lying in a nursing home, would be raised never knowing how great her mother was. Never knowing the love from which little Feather was born.

I love that this gives young people a chance to see all the questions that come up when faced with an unplanned pregnancy. I love that it’s an un-preachy way to let kids see that protected sex isn’t just about avoiding AIDS, but about avoiding even having to face the rough and tough decisions Bobby and Nia had to encounter.

Reviews for The First Part Last (via

From School Library Journal
Grade 8 Up-Brief, poetic, and absolutely riveting, this gem of a novel tells the story of a young father struggling to raise an infant. Bobby, 16, is a sensitive and intelligent narrator. His parents are supportive but refuse to take over the child-care duties, so he struggles to balance parenting, school, and friends who don't comprehend his new role. Alternate chapters go back to the story of Bobby's relationship with his girlfriend Nia and how parents and friends reacted to the news of her pregnancy. Bobby's parents are well-developed characters, Nia's upper-class family somewhat less so. Flashbacks lead to the revelation in the final chapters that Nia is in an irreversible coma caused by eclampsia. This twist, which explains why Bobby is raising Feather on his own against the advice of both families, seems melodramatic. So does a chapter in which Bobby snaps from the pressure and spends an entire day spray painting a picture on a brick wall, only to be arrested for vandalism. However, any flaws in the plot are overshadowed by the beautiful writing. Scenes in which Bobby expresses his love for his daughter are breathtaking. Teens who enjoyed Margaret Bechard's Hanging on to Max (Millbrook, 2002) will love this book, too, despite very different conclusions. The attractive cover photo of a young black man cradling an infant will attract readers.

From Booklist
Gr. 6-12. Bobby, the teenage artist and single-parent dad in Johnson's Coretta Scott King Award winner, Heaven (1998), tells his story here. ...Johnson makes poetry with the simplest words in short, spare sentences that teens will read again and again. The great cover photo shows the strong African American teen holding his tiny baby in his arms.

Coretta Scott King Award
Michael L. Printz Award


Hautman, Pete. (2004). Godless. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0698862784.

Jason Bock is bored. Bored of his ho-hum life in his little town, bored of his parents—his mother’s fixation with his health and his father’s obsession with the state of his soul. His father insists Jason attend the weekly Teen Power Outreach (or TPO) at their Catholic church, but Jason makes no secret that he doesn’t believe in God. Then, one night when cornered, Jason, on a whim says that he serves a different god—The Ten-Legged One (an idea he got lying under the water tower after a particularly stiff punch to the face from Henry Stagg, local bully). He pitches the idea to his best friend, Peter Stephen Schinner (known as Shin):

Think about it: What is the source of all life? Water. Where does water come from? Water towers. What is the tallest structure in most towns? The water tower. What makes more sense—to worship a water tower or to worship an invisible, impalpable, formless entity that no one has seen since Moses. And all he actually saw was a burning bush.

I explain this to Shin, who stops walking and stares back at me as if my nose has turned into a tentacle.

“You’re saying the water tower is God?”
“Think about it,” I say.
Shin thinks about it.
“Prove me wrong,” I say.
He gives it some more thought. “Suppose that what you say is true. Then are all water towers gods?”
“I’m not sure. I guess they must be. Some are lesser god, though.”
Shin nods his head slowly. “I like it.”

They then come up with the idea that water towers “manifested themselves” as alien invaders from another galaxy—Shin admitting that as a kid, he always thought that water towers were spaceships, stealing our water and that someday they would have to take him with them because he was “on to them…. I figured they were just waiting for the right moment to beam me aboard and take off.”

One by one, Jason begins to “convert” his friends. Even Dan, the preacher’s kid, jumps on board. In the mean time, Shin as “First Keeper of the Sacred Text” preoccupies himself with writing the new religion’s—Chutengodianism, short for Church of the Ten-Legged God—Bible and he seems to take it pretty seriously. He even “quantifies” god and calculates the “Secret Dimensions.” In fact, Shin is taking it so seriously that he seems to channel another person whenever he talks about The Ten-Legged One.

Jason even recruits Henry Stagg—the whole reason Chutengodianism started (with his sucker punch to Jason’s face)—mainly because only Henry knows how to actually get up on the tower. In exchange for this secret, Jason promises Henry the position of High Priest.

Before long, Jason calls a meeting of the first Sabbath (which is on Tuesday, “because nothing else ever happens on Tuesday”) up on the top of the water tower. But with Henry, nothing is ever predictable—Henry busts open the top hatch of the tower and convinces everyone (well, everyone but Shin who was too terrified to make it up the tower) to actually drop inside the tower for a swim. Though Jason hadn’t planned on “baptism,” he too swims with them, nearly getting stuck in the tower together.

Afterwards, while Henry is getting dressed, his wet body slips over the side of the tower and with his fall begins the fall of Chutengodianism. He doesn’t die but does break a lot of bones. The cops are called, everyone is arrested and the tower is declared off limits. All the parents are up in arms against Jason because the new religion was his idea and most of the “congregation” have moved on. Most. There is still Shin.

More obsessed than ever and now resentful that Jason seems to have chosen Henry over him, Shin climbs the tower and goes in the water. Jason follows in order to talk him down. But they become trapped there in a thunderstorm, the inside of the tower being the safest place for them at that point. When it is all over, everyone is in trouble again, and Shin even ends up in a mental hospital for a few days, but eventually everything blows over. Jason’s father accepts his agnosticism or atheism, but tells him it’s a long lonely road. Shin still “believes” in Chutengodianism and spends his days drawing water tower gods.

So, was it all worth it?

So, I’ve been thinking about Shin, remembering what he said to me last time I saw him—that you can’t really understand something until you believe in it. It sounded crazy to me at the time, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. For example, you can’t really understand what it means to be Catholic (or Muslim, or whatever) unless you have faith. And you can’t understand algebra unless you believe in numbers. Same deal with gastropods and water towers.

Maybe Shin’s got it right. He just decides to believe in something, then he dives right in. I suppose in a few weeks, he’ll get rid of the water tower obsession just as he got rid of his snails, and move on to something new. Leprechauns, maybe. Does that make him crazy? I don’t know. In a way I envy him. He always seems to know what he wants.

I envy my father, too. I envy his unshakable belief in the Catholic Church—his faith gives him power and contentment. I envy everyone who has a religion they can believe in. I envy Henry and Magda, who believe in each other. I even envy Dan, who thinks I’m a dangerous heretic.

Me? I have Chutengodianism—a religion with no church, no money, and only one member. I have a religion, but I have no faith. Maybe one day I’ll find a deity I can believe in. Until then, my god is made of steel and rust.

This book has teenaged characters, in teenaged situations and results in teenaged epiphanies. There isn’t a curse word in it. No sex scenes. No drugs or alcohol. Yet this book was on the “Adult” side in my public library. Is it because of the title? Or was the content—a group of normal young people forming their own, harmless, religion—just too wayward for my conservative community (Sugar Land, TX… Tom DeLay’s former district… conservative enough for ya?)?

Either way, the fact that this young adult book was on the Adult side means to me that the library administration (at the mercy of a county commission who, while they are NOT Tom DeLay, at some point must have echoed his political beliefs) is either 1) doing their part to keep compromise between intellectual freedom and complying with powers that be who want to shelter their young people from anything having to do with questioning religion and spirituality or 2) guarding against the possibility of challenges from parents who might object to the title.

I am a very spiritual person. But I’m not very religious at all. I, for one, LOVED this book. When I was a teenager, I thought that the path to “righteousness” (whatever the hell that means) was strict adherence to the principles the adults around me were shoving down my throat. I trusted those adults as leaders and role models because nothing they said insinuated that they weren’t the perfect individuals I thought they were. Why didn’t any of them make sure I understood that Christianity didn’t trump humanity? In the end, I began to see their faults and it made me question everything I knew. It shattered my perception of reality—that communism and evolution were “evil,” that I needed to pray for the Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian, etc. infidels and their souls so that they wouldn’t burn in hell for eternity.

While it was painful, I’m glad it happened. Now, though my life is less “disciplined” and I’m not really sure what “righteousness” is anymore, I definitely feel more enlightened and connected not only to the world around me (and all it’s beautiful colors and variations and beliefs and cultures and traditions) but I feel even more connected to myself. I feel comfortable in my state of “I don’t know.” I’m still spiritual—I’ll never deny the profound spiritual experiences I had on my road to where I am now—but I’ve decided that being religious only separates me from the beautiful world of creation around me. That’s a separation too painful to be worth “Heaven.”

This realization has taken a “long, lonely road” as Jason’s father put it in the book. And the road was a painful, confusing metamorphosis. I had to research and decide on things myself, based on my own experiences and misadventures. In many ways, I wish Pete Hautman had written Godless a long time ago, so that I could have spared myself this long painful journey. I don’t regret anything because had it not been for all my experiences, I wouldn’t be who I am today. And I like me. But I am a little jealous of the young people who get to read Godless (well, IF they ever hear about it and IF they are brave enough to go to the Adult side of the library to get it and IF they are clever enough to be able to hide it from their parents long enough to read it) and live this questioning experience vicariously through the misadventures of a small group of bored teenagers searching for meaning—each in their own way—and looking up to a water tower as a representation of splendor.

Reviews for Godless (via

From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up–...These are fun, wacky, interesting characters. While chuckling aloud may be common in the early chapters, serious issues dominate the latter stages of the book. The rivalry between Jason and Henry for the attentions of Magda, Jason's unrepentant certainty that doing what he sees as right is more important than following his parents' rules, and Shin's apparent continued belief in the tenets he helped create are thought-provoking and disturbing. Jason is left to ponder the meaning of a religion that has only himself as a member.

From Booklist
*Starred Review* Gr. 7-10. Hautman knows how to project a voice. ...In a smartly structured narrative that is by turns funny, worried, and questioning, Jason watches as his once-cohesive little congregation starts wanting to "worship" in its own ways, some of them deadly. Not everything works here. Shin's meltdown doesn't seem real, even though it has been thoroughly foreshadowed. But most scenes are honest and true to the bone, such as the one in which Jason and Harry agree that their dangerous stunts are worth their weight in memories. Anyone who has questioned his or her religion, especially as a teenager, will respond to Jason's struggles with belief. Many individuals, upon reading this, will consider their own questions once more.

National Book Award Winner

The Pigman

Zindel, Paul. (1968). The Pigman. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0553263218.

John Conlan and Lorraine Jensen, both sophomores in high school, take turns narrating their story as the school librarian—The Cricket—surveys them, thinking they are doing an assignment. Instead, they recount the tale of how they met “the pigman.” While playing a prank-calling game (where they call a random number and do whatever it takes to keep the person on the line), Lorraine happens upon Mr. Pignati and pretends to be a charity worker asking for money. John takes the idea and runs with it, actually getting the Pigman to agree to making a contribution of $10.

When John and Lorraine actually do show up at Mr. Pignati’s house, they discover that the Pigman is a sweet, giving and lonely old man, who would like nothing more than for the kids to accompany him to the zoo. His wife Conchetta is away in California and he doesn’t know what to do with his days (though the kids observe just by a look around the apartment that the Pigman could spend his days tidying up a little).

John and Lorraine do go with the Pigman to the zoo and meet “Bobo” an ape to whom the Pigman has grown attached—to whom he speaks and throws peanuts. When they see just how lonely he is (and start to suspect that Conchetta really isn’t just out visiting in California but may have actually left the Pigman for good) they feel moved to spend even more time with him. In return, the Pigman sort of serves as a surrogate parent since neither John nor Lorraine get along with their parents. The Pigman even buys them expensive gifts they would never have been able to afford.

One such gift was a pair of roller skates—a pair each for the three of them. One night as they are playing around the apartment—in their roller skates—John gets Mr. Pignati to chase him, causing the older man to over-exert himself. The Pigman has a heart attack and is taken to the hospital.

In the meantime, John and Lorraine spend their time at the Pigman’s apartment, having promised to take care of it while he was gone. It’s during that time, rummaging around in Mr. Pignati’s (and Conchetta’s) belongings that they discover Conchetta is actually dead.

Knowing that Mr. Pignati might be coming home the next day and that they won’t have the house to themselves anymore, John decides to throw a small party. But word of the party spreads around until the apartment is so full things are getting out of hand. In the end, one really jerky delinquent shows up and actually tries to steal from Mr. Pignati. He and John get into a fight, but still worse, Mr. Pignati shows up unannounced. The police are called to escort John and Lorraine to their homes.

When things have blown over a little, John and Lorraine convince Mr. Pignati to go back to the zoo with them, like old times. But when they get there, they discover that Bobo, the ape, has died. This sends Mr. Pignati over the edge and he suffers another heart attack—this one being fatal. They leave him there in the monkey house to be found by passersby because they don’t want to get into more trouble.

But even as they are sitting there on a park bench thinking about what has happened, they realize how much they had in common with Mr. Pignati. That they were just as lonely as he and that when he died, he took something of them with him. The only difference was that they were not dead—they had their whole lives in front of them, and an opportunity to make their lives into something more than poor Pigman was there at the end. As John says in the last chapter:

But I did care. She thinks she knows everything that goes on inside me, and she doesn’t know a thing. What did she want from me—to tell the truth all the time? To run around saying it did matter to me that I live in a world where you can grow old and be alone and have to get down on your hands and knees and beg for friends? A place where people just sort of forget about you because you get a little old and your mind’s a little senile or silly?.... Didn’t she know how sick to my stomach it made me to feel to know it’s possible to end your life with only a baboon to talk to? And maybe Lorraine and I were only a different kind of baboon in a way. Maybe we were all baboons for that matter—big blabbing baboons—smiling away and not really caring what was going on as long as there were enough peanuts bouncing around to think about…baffled baboons concentrating on all the wrong things… That was the secret—don’t have any spare time. Watch the little things in life, the ones you have control over.

When I first started this book, the narration seemed a little dated. But it only took until the second chapter for me to see that even if this book was written before I was born, it can be seen to be just as racy and dark as I’m sure it seemed back then. In my honest opinion, the reason for this is that, even if the vocabulary may have changed a little, the themes which are central to this book are just as important today as ever.

For one, John and Lorraine can not relate to their parents. Though John has both of his parents at home, his father has a mundane corporate job and his mother spends her time trying to convince John how great his father is (or maybe she’s trying to convince herself). Either way, John feels very disconnected from the both of them—he calls his mother the Old Lady and his father, the Bore. He spends a lot of his time hanging out in a cemetery drinking and chain-smoking and telling tall tales to his friends. Lorraine, on the other hand, has only her mother. But her mother has been so jaded by life and men that she is very skittish about the prospect of Lorraine having any guy friends. She also makes Lorraine feel bad about herself and even tells her that she is not pretty. So, while Lorraine is the more studious of the two (John is the class clown), she is still drawn in by John and his friends not only because he is “handsome” but also maybe because John represents all that Lorraine’s mother fears—but such seems to out of reach to Lorraine anyway.

This disconnection, this distance, from their parents fuels their need to rebel. And that is a theme that has no age.

Another theme, not stated as explicitly, seems to be the pushing of boundaries in an attempt at self-discovery. One criticism I read about this book was that it seemed to be so “dark.” But that seems to be a relevant and realistic quality to books of young adult fiction simply because adolescence is not the bright and happy period people wish it would be. Sure, adults look back on their teens with nostalgia and think about how easy and fun “the good ol’ days” were, but their memories seem to be hazier than what their actual realities probably were. Adolescence for many (dare I say “most”) is a time of confusion and fear—even for those who seem the most confident… ask any popular person if they really think their life is “easy”—it is a time of discovery not only of self but of the world around them. It is a time when the Disney wears off and they start to learn that while it may be “a small world after all” it’s not always one in which the evil is defeated at the end of an hour and a half. That sometimes, evil does prevail and sometimes we are powerless against it.

Another thing many adolescents discover is that as much as they want to be older—that pre-requisite for so many long-desired privileges—that they will get old. Age—real elderly aging—is something awkward and borderline disgusting. They repel it and deny it. It’s part of what makes them so brave.

I saw these themes screaming out from the pages of The Pigman. John and Lorraine, pulled between what they are told they are supposed to be, what they feel inside they are and afraid of what they are becoming and might some day be. The tone may feel dark to some, perhaps to many adults, but I can see young adults really relating and enjoying the vicarious experience of really pushing the limits.

Reviews for The Pigman (via

Publishers Weekly
Headline news…remarkable…Zindel has written a story that will not be denied.

School Library Journal
An intensely moving story of believably alienated young people.

Awards:2002 Margaret A. Edwards Award (ALA)
1968 Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book


Meyer, Stephanie. (2005). Twilight. New York: Little, Brown & Co. ISBN 0316160172.

It’s the story of a high-school aged girl named Bella (short for Isabella) Swan whose mother sends her to live with her father, Charlie, in Forks, Washington. Bella is an awkward and somewhat clumsy girl, but she seems to be instantly accepted at her new school—her attention even sought after by several guys. The only problem she has is that she seems to be the target of hatred of Edward Cullen, the mysterious guy who sits near her in biology class—he spends class periods glaring at her as if he couldn’t stand the sight, or smell, of her. Bella can’t understand why Edward would have anything against her.

After a several day absence, Edward returns, seemingly reformed and instead of treating her with revulsion, he now seems strangely fascinated by Bella. And Bella, in return, can’t explain why she, too, is so captivated by Edward. She does what she can to avoid him, but can’t seem to get him out of her thoughts. He even saves her from several near-missed injuries, including being hit by a passing car. But Bella is suspicious of his strange, almost supernatural, powers.

Eventually, Bella discovers that Edward and the Cullen family are a pack of vampires who do not feed on people. But by then, it is too late… Bella is in love and ready to accept Edward’s “condition.” Instead of withdrawing from him, she begs him to share himself with her and all that goes along with being a vampire.

Edward introduces Bella to his family and is even invited out to the woods to watch them “play.” But the youthful vampire frolicking is suddenly interrupted when they all pick up an unfamiliar scent—another vampire family has sensed Bella and is homing in on her to feed. The Cullen family intervenes, declaring Bella as a “friend” but it is too late, the vampires—especially the tracker James—now see Bella as a challenge and begin stalking her.

Things get so serious that Bella has to flee and go back to her mother’s house (who is out of town with her new beau). The problem is the stalking vampire is not so easily tricked. He lures her into a trap, planning on feeding her. He swipes her about like a doll but just as he is about to go in for the kill, the Cullens appear and kill the rogue vampire, burning him to ashes.

Bella and Edward return to Washington and prepare to go about their lives as usual. Edward takes Bella to the prom and begs him to turn her into a vampire so that they can be together forever.

IMHO, I tried to read Twilight last summer and HATED it. For one, I found Bella not to be a likeable or believable protagonist. She flip-flopped between being this liberated, somewhat feministic young woman who didn’t really seem to care about what people thought about her and a weak, trembling little girl who constantly let herself be overpowered by the sneering, “glaring” Edward. I saw this as a sickening display of the strong woman “brought down” by the “gorgeous,” overpowering male. I didn’t think it was a good testimony to women—even though it was written by a woman—and frankly, that disgusted me.

On top of that, page after page was FILLED with descriptions of the mundane: Bella brushing her teeth, Bella wondering what she would wear, Bella wondering what she would fix for dinner, Bella doing this, Bella doing that—my summer was just too short to read all that blah blah blah. Not to mention the fact that though we have hints very early on that there is something supernatural about Edward—we KNOW he’s a vampire, right?—we have to wait nearly half-way through the book to have it really confirmed. That means we have to spend over 150 pages getting to know (and hopefully like) Bella enough to care what happens when the action FINALLY gets started.

That was LAST summer. I got to page 200 and was so disgusted, I decided to cut my losses and put the book down.

That fall, I saw Stephanie Meyer in person at a book festival in Austin, Texas. There was a horde of pre-teens and teenagers sporting vampire teeth and home-made shirts with quotations such as, “Call me Mrs. Cullen,” “I love Edward Cullen,” “Jasper Needs More Lines,” etc. I was impressed until I heard her speak to them. She was sort of, well, snobby. She answered many of her questions with an air of superiority I can only compare to the “mean girls” from high school—even bordering on ridicule. It made me wonder why 1) young teenaged girls would read such a tedious book after such an interaction with the author and 2) why what seemed like a group of “outliers” would be so attracted to someone who seemed so “mainstream.” But since John Green and Barry Lyga were also there, I didn’t spend TOO much time pondering Ms. Meyer.

Then, later that winter, coerced by a group of teenaged girls I know from my public library (actually, it was sort of an exchange… I told them that if they read some books I recommended, that I would TRY to make my way through both Twilight and its sequel, New Moon), I FORCED myself to read both books. Then, early this summer, I re-read Twilight.

While I maintain my earliest impressions of the tedium of the writing itself, the shakiness of many of the characters and the somewhat transparent plot-line, I did find a few things to LIKE about the book.

For one, even though I still can’t STAND neither Bella nor Edward as characters, I have to say that the chemical/sexual/sensual (or whatever you wanna call it) tension between the two of them was admittedly VERY skillfully done. The sensory details in some of their interactions were more than believable. Several times, I found myself relating to the urgency they felt—this, I-want-to-hold-you-but-I-can’t-touch-you-for-your-own-good conflict was very effective. In fact, I wish this could have gone on for just a little bit longer—just one more excruciating moment—because when they finally do start making out, the tension fades (as it does in uber-intense, real-life forbidden relationships). That is, until the idea pops up that he should “turn” her. I spent the rest of the novel (and most of the “Edward” parts of the sequel, mentally BEGGING Edward to bite her).

Another thing I found irresistible—truly, in spite of myself—was the Cullen family. Every member of the entire Cullen family has such a complex and magnetic personality, it is not unbelievable that they are vampires. They are all attractive and rich in their own ways, making them just the sort of people a coven a vampires might be. I found myself wanting to spend more time with them and less time alone with Edward and Bella (who seemed to spend HOURS and HOURS alone blah blah blahing their romantic banter—frankly, they were more interesting when they weren’t talking but rather trying NOT to touch one another… whenever they talked, Edward ended up sounding like an arrogant jerk and Bella a wilting, withering, cowering flower—yuck!).

I do have Twilight to thank for a very important epiphany. It wasn’t until Twilight, that I realized the importance of reading EVERYTHING that is popular with teenagers. Before having finished it, I wasn’t able to really discuss the phenomenon with the young adults I am dedicated to serving. Now, I feel armed to have lengthy, complicated conversations (and debates) about the elements of the story—giving me yet another way to relate to my “constituents,” my young patrons—whereas before, I was just another grown up. Because of Twilight, I have found myself less reluctant to read books I know are popular but which do not interest me—because in the end, it’s not just about reading what I like, but also about being able to better serve the kids. So, thanks Ms. Meyer, for that.

Reviews for Twilight (via

From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 9 Up–…Realistic, subtle, succinct, and easy to follow, Twilight will have readers dying to sink their teeth into it.

From Booklist:
Starred Review* Gr. 9-12. In the tradition of Anne Rice and YA titles such as Annette Curtis Klause's The Silver Kiss (1999) comes this heady romance that intertwines Bella Swan's life with that of Edward, an alluring and tormented vampire. ...There are some flaws here--a plot that could have been tightened, an overreliance on adjectives and adverbs to bolster dialogue--but this dark romance seeps into the soul.

New York Times Editor's Choice (2006)
ALA Best Books for Young Adults nominee.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


Yo. Welcome to Teen Lit IMHO (In My Honest--not Humble--Opinion). The primary purpose of this blog is to fulfill a project assignment for my Adv. Lit. for YA course at TWU in which I was instructed to read and write a blog about ten YA titles (most of which come from a reading list). However, because I LOVE YA lit(in fact, I've pretty much given up regular Adult Lit because the authors tend to sacrifice the story in the interest of sounding "literary" and they usually get in their own way) I'm hoping this blog will be something I continue even when the course is over. I try to read several books a week, but I get SO into the books that it's easy for me to forget what happened in which one. SOOOOO, blogging it will not only give me a record of what I've read, but will also remind me of what the books were about and what I liked/disliked about them.

SPOILER WARNING: Because I want the book summaries to be as complete as possible, I will tell the endings of most of the books,so if you start reading it and feel you're getting too much, skip ahead to the "reaction" section where I give you my honest opinion.

ALSO, because IMHO, blogging is a personal experience, I will often (in fact, MOST of the time) give a personal reaction to the books I read. I am on the road to becoming a YA Librarian and IMHO, the best ways to serve my young patronage is to 1) read as many books as possible and 2) to do my best to relate to the material--in other words, to take a trip back to my own adolescence and think about how the book would have affected me or how the book reminds me now, as an adult, of the experiences I had back then. So, while this blog may exist as homework, it will be executed also as a personal journey--why else would I call it In My Honest Opinion.

Anyhoo, I hope you enjoy the read (or at least see certain books/topics/issues in a new light, maybe). Peace.