The Hit by Melvin Burgess

Oh God, I hope my mom doesn’t read this. Usually she’s busy being retired and teaching our dog tricks. Don’t read this, Mom. I’ll give you $5 not to read this. I think the dog pooped in the hallway. You better go check that situation out. I don’t think you want to hear that the only reason your kid doesn’t do drugs is because she’s too lazy to go find them.

I don’t do drugs. I don’t avoid them because they’re bad for me and will lead my life down a path of ruin and eventual death. I don’t do drugs because I have no idea where I would get them and I’m too lazy to seek them out. The hardest drug I do is Benadryl. And caffeine.

thehitMelvin Burgess’s The Hit is about a drug unlike any other. It’s called Death and it’s in high demand. You swallow it and have 7 days to live, but those 7 days are the best days you could ever hope for. You wake up euphoric, a burst of energy unlike any high you’ve ever felt. Any dream you’ve had, whatever you wanted to become in life, you pursue it with passion (instead of what I do which is ‘I think I want to write a book except my favorite episode of American Dad is on and I’ve only seen it 17 times.’)

Adam comes from a poor family. His dad is disabled and unable to work and his mom works so many shifts that all she can do when she gets home is sleep. His brother Jess, a chemist, hasn’t been heard from in days. England is on the edge of anarchy, goaded on by a terrorist group known as the Zealots who want to bring down the capitalist regime. Adam’s girlfriend Lizzie comes from money and it’s the same old story: boy from the wrong side of the tracks and the rich girl falling in love. Adam doesn’t think his life is going to get any better. He’s going to have to drop out of school and find a job.

He takes Lizzie on a date to see their favorite rock star Jimmy Earle who caps his performance by saying he’d taken Death 7 days before. At the end of the concert, Jimmy Earle drops dead on stage. A near riot ensues on the streets of Manchester. Crowds of people caught up in the fervor of bringing down the government clog the streets. Someone is handing out Death. Adam and Lizzie watch people pop the drug into their mouths. Someone hands Adam Death. He pockets it. It had been the perfect night.

The next day Adam and his parents receive a letter from the Zealots saying his brother Jess has been killed. Jess was working for the Zealots as a chemist, manufacturing Death. His parents are horrified and Adam sinks into a depression. What does his life mean now? He’ll have to quit school and take some crap job and live a crap life. There will be no university. In his despair he swallows the Death he’d pocketed the night before and begins his own countdown. He makes a bucket list for the next 7 days:

1. Loads of sex with loads of girls. Several of them at once.
2. Get rich. Leave my parents and Lizzie with enough money so they’ll never have to work again.
3. Drink champagne till I can’t stand.
4. Do cocaine.
5. Do something so that humanity will remember me forever.

Yeah, that first to-do is definitely a teenage boy’s top priority.

Mixed in with the Zealots is a gangster. Isn’t there always a bad dude in the midst of everything: one hand out for cash in exchange for a bad deed, the other hand holding a machete? This gangster (sorry, entrepreneur ) is named Florence Ballantine and he has a psychotic 46-year-old son Christian who thinks he’s fourteen. Christian wears a baseball cap with the bill flipped to the side, baggy jeans, expensive t-shirts and has a bodyguard named Vince who likes to put his anti-psychotic medicine in a glass of milk. This father and son team manufacture Death. Who cares that it causes people to expire in 7 days? There’s money to be made.

Adam and Lizzie trip through the criminal underworld and get caught up in a race to accomplish everything on Adam’s bucket list all the while counting down the days and hours. While Adam is trying to make the first to-do on his bucket list happen, Christian sees Lizzie at a party and demands that she be his new girlfriend. Nobody wants to be his girlfriend because the dude’s brain is fried. And he’s terrifying.

Is Adam brave enough (or dumb enough) to take on the Zealots, Florence the gangster and his cuckoo for cocoa puffs son? Does Lizzie love him enough to survive a week of knowing he’s going to die? Why was Jess so secretive about what he was working on for the Zealots? Wait until you read the ending. I did not see it coming.

Getting Graphic

We’re heading steadily through March, and I have to say I’m a wee bit proud of myself for continuing to work through my only New Years resolution this year. If you’re a regular reader, you may recall my self-imposed reading challenge which was designed to stretch my mind and read outside of my comfort zone.

Here’s a quick rundown of my 2014 Reading Resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel (see below)
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

You’ll kindly overlook the fact that I’m skipping around on my list. Sure, it would have been more organized to tackle these in list order, but it turns out I can’t quite ignore that little voice inside my head that still wants to rebel against prescribed reading–even if I am the person who came up with the guidelines! The only way to drown out the voices is to read what I’m in the mood to read. And this month I decided to get graphic.

I’ve always gotten a bit lost trying to read graphic novels. My brain can’t stop looking around at all the images, and comparing and contrasting what I see with what my brain is trying to imagine on its own. Rogue brain. Be silent!

PrestoEnough of my neuroses. Let’s talk about Bandette. Presto! is the first book in the Bandette series by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. Bandette is a teenage thief who calls Paris home. I like to refer to her as a modern-day Nancy Drew meets Robin Hood meets Sherlock Holmes. She always dons her costume, complete with cape and mask, before venturing out to clean up the streets, thwarting the criminal underworld as well as the local police inspector, Belgique. She has a weakness for first editions–her personal library is split between the books she’s purchased with her own money and books she has “liberated,” also known as stolen. And her skills as a thief are only matched by her quick wit and unique sense of humor. Bandette may not take the world so seriously, but is that due to her age or her occupation? Take this line, for example. She’s in the thick of battle and still manages to quip:

Hush, Matadori! The air is already thick with bullets. Do not overcrowd it with drama as well.

Presto! combines the first five issues of the Monkeybrain comic book series Bandette. And while I hadn’t read them until I happened upon this tome in our Young Adult graphic novel collection, I am hesitant to read any more until the next bound volume is published. For one thing, it will build anticipation. It will also allow me to work on other reading challenges in my list. And honestly, reading them bound together with all the little extras in the back (including author interviews and a behind-the-scenes look at the process of writing, drawing, and coloring the comic) is in and of itself a beautiful thing I’d miss out on.

When I started reading Presto!, which can be easily consumed in an afternoon, I knew I would need to take notes on my reading experience for the blog. Here are my reactions, perceptions, and ideas that I recorded during my introduction to Bandette. You can click on each image to make it larger and easier to read.

Notes1 Notes2

Since it’s past my deadline (Bandette wouldn’t follow any but her own deadlines!) I’ll let my handwritten notes above speak for me. You can also take my husband’s word for it, as he devoured Presto! the night I brought it home to read and nagged me about it until I had time to read it myself. I even purchased my own copy, knowing I will re-read it in the future.

Overall I’ve come out of this third reading challenge with a better appreciation for the illustrated novel and a definite plan for Halloween. I’ve also got what I would call a new literary best friend. Bandette, I can’t wait until we meet again in volume two.

Books to Read before the Movie Premieres

I’d like to augment Alan’s series on books which have been made into movies with this list of 2014 movies which are based on books. This is going to be an awesome year at the movies and you’ll enjoy the them even more if you check out these books from the library and read them before viewing the films. Here they are in order of release date.

index (34)1. The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter. The book: The true story of art historians who joined the armed forces during World War II to try to track down and save as much fine art as possible before and after Hitler got his hands on it. The movie: Will be released February 7th and stars a fantastic cast including: George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, and Bill Murray.

index2. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. The book: Takes readers on a journey to New York of the Belle Époque, where Peter Lake attempts to rob a Manhattan mansion only to find the daughter of the house at home. Thus begins the love between the middle-aged Irishman and Beverly Penn, a young girl who is dying. The movie: This romantic fantasy comes out February 14th and stars Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe and Jessica Brown Findlay.

index (1)3. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. The book: Try to read at least the first book in this series. There are way too many sexy vampire books out there, but with a mythology different from your typical vampire story, a novel this dark is definitely worth your time. The movie: Will also be released February 14th and stars Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, and Sarah Hyland.  It was made by the directors of Mean Girls.

index (2)4. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. The book: Tells the story of four people who encounter one another on the roof of Topper’s House, a London destination famous as the last stop for those ready to end their lives. It is told in four distinct voices and manages to be humorous and somber at the same time. The movie: Stars Aaron Paul, Rosamund Pike, Imogen Poots and Pierce Brosnan and will be released March 7th.

index (3)5. Divergent by Veronica Roth. The book: Set in a world where you’re placed in neat little categories called factions, it’s dangerous to be someone like Tris — someone who is Divergent. Being Divergent means you don’t just belong in one category, and it also means you can’t be controlled. This is a frightening world, but a must-read book. The movie: Stars Kate Winslet, Shailene Woodley and Theo James and will be in theaters March 21st.  Scary!

index (4)6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. The book: Will have you laughing and crying and then crying some more since it is a beautifully written romance between two terminally ill young people. It is a beautiful story about life and death. The movie: Also stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort and will be out June 6th. Remove your mascara and take tissue with you to this emotional movie based on the book.

index (5)7. The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais. The book: The story starts with a tragedy in Mumbai, India and follows the family around the world until they land in Lumiere, France where they open an Indian restaurant one hundred feet from a fancy french restaurant. The movie: Helen Mirren will play Madame Mallory who is initially infuriated when the new restaurant is such a success, but then softens and takes the young man under her wing. Release date is August 8th.

index (6)8. The Giver by Lois Lowry. The book: The Giver,  the 1994 Newbery Medal winner, follows the story of a boy who is given the responsibility of remembering the history of the world that existed before the establishment of the Utopian society in which he now lives. Profound and full of important messages, this is definitely a novel that should be on your ‘To Be Read’ list. The movie: Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep make this a highly anticipated movie and Taylor Swift tries acting. The release date is August 15th.

index (7)9. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. The book: This is a dark twisted tale with despicable characters and a sometimes harrowing, but well developed, plot which some readers may find just too uncomfortable to read. It’s not a happy story or a feel good book. On the other hand, if you like a little of the above, then Dark Places will keep you turning the pages and have you sitting up and reading long into the night. The movie: To be released September 1st with Charlize Theron.

index (8)10. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. The book: Simultaneously mourning the death of his father and the end of his marriage, Judd joins the rest of the Foxmans as they reluctantly submit to their patriarch’s dying request to spend the seven days following the funeral together. In the same house. Like a family. The book is hilarious. The movie: With Jason Bateman and Tina Fey. Enough said. To be released September 12th.

index (9)11. The Maze Runner by James Dashner. The book: The Maze Runner is the first book in the trilogy of the same name by James Dashner. It is the story of Thomas, who wakes up in a strange place and can remember nothing more than his name. Set in a mysterious place surrounded by a maze that changes every night and contains hideous monsters within its walls, this is a sci-fi thriller that’s a little bit Lord of the Flies and a little bit The Hunger Games.The movie: With the release date of September 19th, features Dylan O’Brien and Kaya Scodelario.

index (10)12. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. The book: Amy mysteriously disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary and it’s looking more and more like her husband Nick was involved. This thrilling book will translate into a great suspenseful movie. The movie: With Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, it will be out on October 3rd just in time for the Halloween season.

index (11)13. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. The book: the true story of Louis Zamperini, a track star from the 1930′s who participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and then became an airman in WWII.  His plane went down in the Pacific Ocean and the story is fascinating. The movie: To be released on Christmas day, directed by Angelina Jolie, and starring Garrett Hedlund, Jai Courtney, and Domhnall Gleeson.

index (12)14. Wild by Cheryl Strand. The book: Chreyl lost both her mother and her marriage in quick succession, so with nothing left to lose, she decided to hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.  It is a story of wilderness salvation and survival, both internally and externally. The movie: Will be released sometime in 2014 and will star Reese Witherspoon.  

index (13)15. Serena by Ron Rash. The book: The year is 1929, and newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton travel from Boston to the North Carolina mountains where they plan to create a timber empire. Although George has already lived in the camp long enough to father an illegitimate child, Serena learns that she will never bear a child, and sets out to murder the son George fathered without her. The movie: A must-see since it stars Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. To be released sometime this year.

Well, there you have it. Read the book first so the movie will be all the better. Enjoy! Go Seahawks!

Best of 2013: Young Adult

There is no denying that young adult books are one of the most popular genres in publishing today. Find out why with this list of our staff’s picks for the best of 2013.

Fiction:

YAfic

Etiquette & Espionage  |  Gail Carriger
In an alternate England of 1851, spirited 14-year-old Sophronia is enrolled in a finishing school where, she is surprised to learn, lessons include not only the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but also diversion, deceit, and espionage.

Strong female characters, spies, steampunk, thwarted parents.  What more could one ask for in a read? – Ron

The Nightmare Affair  |  Mindee Arnett
Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for “magickind,” 16-year-old Destiny Everhart feeds on the dreams of others, working with a handsome human student to find a killer.

The first book in an addictive new series, this book combines some of my favorite paranormal elements (dreams and magic) and gets under your skin. I can’t wait for the next book in the series (next year—hopefully)! – Carol

Born of Illusion  |  Teri J. Brown
Set in 1920s New York City, this is the story of budding magician Anna Van Housen, who has spent her whole life playing sidekick to her faux-medium mother–and trying to hide the fact the she actually possesses the very abilities her mother fakes.

Talking to ghosts. Harry Houdini. Early 20th-century obsession with the occult. What’s not to love? – Carol

Also Known As  |  Robin Benway
As the active-duty daughter of international spies, 16-year-old safecracker Maggie Silver never attended high school. When she and her parents are sent to New York for her first solo assignment, she is introduced to cliques, school lunches and dating.

Who didn’t dream of being a spy when they were a teen? Maggie is the kind of girl I always wanted to be: smart and quick on her feet. Oh, and she can pick locks like no one’s business. – Carol

Non-Fiction:

YAnf

100 Questions You’d Never Ask Your Parents : Straight Answers to Teens’ Questions About Sex, Sexuality, and Health  |  Elisabeth Henderson
A guide for teens about sex and related topics draws on the expertise of a psychologist and an OB/GYN to offer answers to questions on a wide range of subjects that teenagers may be reluctant to discuss with adults.

The questions are compiled from the author’s experience as a middle-school sex-education teacher and are answered frankly and accurately. – Theresa

A Girl’s Guide to Fitting in Fitness  |  Erin Whitehead and Jennipher Walters
Presents a fitness plan for teenage girls, covering exercise, relaxation, and diet, emphasizing how to incorporate physical fitness into a busy schedule.

Helpful illustrations for all of the workouts and quotes from teens about how they manage to fit fitness in offer encouragement to take a realistic approach to a more healthy lifestyle for busy teens. – Theresa

Doctor Who : Character Encyclopedia   |   Jason Loborik
Meet all the most important characters from the entire history of Doctor Who, including every Doctor and companion. Packed with fascinating facts and statistics for characters from the Abzorbaloff to the Zygons.

Colorful cut-out poses and stunning stills from the program invite browsing. – Theresa

DIY Nail Art: 75 Creative Nail Art Designs  |  Catherine Rodgers
Catherine Rodgers, creator of the popular nail art YouTube Channel Totally Cool Nails, shares her secrets in DIY Nail Art. Packed with easy-to-follow instructions and helpful tips for recreating Catherine’s stunning looks, you can create one-of-a-kind nail art designs without ever stepping inside a nail salon.

Add the basic tools she suggests and some colorful polish to make a gift basket for a favorite teen. – Theresa

Let’s Try Swapping Crappy Lives or 3:59

359I was bored one day and I tend to get into trouble when I’m bored (because I morph into a 5-year-old and pull all the pots and pans out of the cupboards for a homemade drum kit) and decided to do research for a blog post I was writing on a book about twin sisters. And I discovered something. They should rename Google Crack Cocaine because that’s what it is. I’m never capable of looking up one thing on Google. I look up one thing and that leads me to five other things (and more than half the time none of the things are remotely related) and the next thing I know it’s dark out and I’ve forgotten to get dressed and go to work. Well, I make it to work but I usually spend the morning thinking of all the stuff I learned.

So the last thing I was looking up was twins and Google was kind enough to lead me to Doppelgangers and every other kind of myth about twins (or my favorite, something called Capgras Delusion which sounds hilarious but is a condition where you think someone you know has been replaced by an identical person pretending to be a loved one). Little did I know that the information on Doppelgangers would soon come in handy….

In Gretchen McNeil’s novel 3:59 Josie Byrne’s life is falling into chaos. Her parents are getting a divorce. Her scientist mother is working long hours on a top-secret experiment, ignoring Josie and becoming a completely different person. Josie’s boyfriend Nick has become withdrawn and distant. People are being killed along a wooded path, their bodies torn apart and scattered. Parents divorcing, a distant boyfriend, and unexplained murders. That’s enough to make me want to find a portal to another version of my life.

Jo’s life, on the other hand, is over the top wonderful. She has a boyfriend named Nick who lavishes her with adoration and her parents are happily married. There’s just one thing. Josie and Jo are Doppelgangers and their lives overlap every twelve hours at 3:59. Seeing that Jo seems to have this fabulous life, Josie wants to swap lives for a day. Jo agrees. And what happens next is no Parent Trap. 

Josie finds out that Jo’s “perfect” world has shadowy creatures that hunt at night and eat people. They swoop down and eat them up. Gross but cool. Josie tries on Jo’s life for a day but is ready to get back to her own world, her own life (no matter if it’s screwed to hell and back). One major problem: Jo has sealed off the portal. She doesn’t want to go back to her own life. Jo’s kind of a jerk. I wanted to use another word but I get into enough trouble on a daily basis for using that word so I’ll save it for a rainy day. When I haven’t gotten into too much trouble. Stop laughing.

Will Josie be stuck in the other world, hunted by the gruesome but awesome shadow monsters or will she make it back to her own world? The mysteries in this book go way deeper than this, however. There are mad scientists, parallel universes, teenage angst (which seems to happen in all parallel universes), gory dismemberments, redemption, insane asylums, and forgiveness. Who knows, maybe we all get a case of Capgras Delusion now and again. I hope that’s my co-worker over at the copier. It could be someone pretending to be her.

Wild, Wild Women

Derby girlI love roller derby and I am proud of it.  I am also proud to share that Snohomish County’s own Jet City Rollergirls are going to battle the Santa Cruz Derby Girls for the national Division 2 championship in Milwaukee on Nov. 10.  The Northwest is well-represented with Seattle’s Rat City Rollergirls playing for the Division 1 championships that same weekend.  You can catch the action live, or watch past bouts on the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association page: www.wftda.com.

Falling hardWhen I saw the new Young Adult series Roller Girls, I had to pick up Falling Hard by Megan Sparks.  When Annie starts the school year in a new town, her dad encourages her to try out for cheerleader in order to use her gymnastics skills.  Unfortunately, the head cheerleader and school queen bee has taken an instant dislike to Annie and makes no bones about it.  Annie’s skating ability gains the notice of the local roller derby team, and she is invited to try out.  What’s a girl to do when she is picked as a cheerleader but practice conflicts with roller derby?  If she’s a girl after my heart she will choose to skate.  The author is clearly familiar with the sport of roller derby; training drills and track action are realistically portrayed.  Annie’s dilemma, to follow her heart and her interests, or to choose to do what is cool and popular will resonate with readers who aren’t derby fans as well.

Bloody JackIn general, I prefer books like Falling Hard with active and interesting girls.  They give me the opportunity to experience life as a brave and strong woman, rather than as the wimpy kid that I more closely resemble.  Another YA series that I thoroughly enjoy is Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer.  Adopted by a group of local urchins after an illness took the lives of her parents and sister, Mary Faber lives on the mean streets of London.  When an opportunity arises to join the Royal Navy as a ship’s boy with the promise of three square meals daily and a dry bed, Jackie disguises herself as “Jack” and signs up.  The work isn’t easy, and then there is the challenge of maintaining her disguise.  Her curiosity and bravado get her into more scrapes than Indiana Jones, but luckily her pluck and good nature generally help her land on her feet.  I was fortunate enough to read the first book well into the author’s run; now I have caught up and must wait for the next installment.

AirheadMeg Cabot consistently turns out Young Adult novels with strong female protagonists.  One of my favorites is her trilogy that begins with Airhead.  Emerson is more interested in video games and academics than in who is trending today.  Her younger sister thrives on popular culture and begs to go to the opening of the new Stark megastore which will feature the hottest pop singer of the time.  Their parents say she can go if Emerson will go with her.  Reluctantly Emerson goes to the opening for her sister’s sake and without hesitation shoves her aside when a big screen television breaks loose and comes crashing down from the ceiling.  The TV lands on Emerson and lands her in the hospital.  When she wakes up, she doesn’t see herself in the mirror; instead, the face of supermodel, Nikki Howard, stares back at her.  As Emerson tries to come to grips with her new reality, she discovers that there may be something very sinister at the root of the “experimental” brain transplant that saved her life.

So there you have a sampling of the brave young women you could meet in the Young Adult section of the library.  The credo of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association is “Real Strong Athletic Revolutionary” and while we can’t all be mixing it up on the track, we can at least be derby girls at heart or in our reading lives.

Theresa

Vampires and Ghosts and Dystopias—Oh, My!

Welcome to Teen Read Week! What is TRW? Here’s a direct quote from the American Library Association’s Young Adult Library Services Administration (ALA’S YALSA):

Teen Read Week™ is a national adolescent literacy initiative created by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). It began in 1998 and is held annually during the third week of October. Its purpose is to encourage teens to be regular readers and library users.

When I was a teen in the 90s, Young Adult (YA) fiction was virtually nonexistent. Judy Blume, Lurlene McDaniel, Joan Lowery Nixon, Christopher Pike, and Cynthia Voigt were pretty much the only options. After trying a few of those I decided to skip YA fiction altogether and progressed immediately to adult paperbacks. Today, options for teens are seemingly infinite. With the popularity of Harry Potter and the Twilight series, it became readily apparent that YA fiction had something to offer adults, too.

For years I resisted the lure of YA fiction, thinking there was no way I could ever identify or even remotely care about these teen protagonists. Turns out I was so very wrong. And series are really where YA fiction shines. Readers get “the feels” for characters, truly caring what happens to them in the story. This is how I got sucked in. To prove it, I’ve prepared a sampling of some of my most favorite YA series. And despite my catchy title, I’m really not into vampires or dystopias, but that doesn’t mean that YA fiction isn’t packed with them.

CroakCroak by Gina Damico
I’ve previously reviewed the first book in this series for the blog, so I suggest you check out that post for a full write-up. Please don’t read the comment, though, as someone posted a spoiler! Basically it’s the story of a teen Grim Reaper named Lex who struggles to not only learn to use her powers but also fit in with her new Reaper community.

So far the series is up to three books (the library is in the process of ordering the third book). I have been patiently–okay, impatiently!–reading each book as it is published. I’ve found that I always remember where the previous book left off and have discovered that I am deeply invested emotionally in everything that happens to our Reapers and their families.

level 2The Memory Chronicles by Lenore Appelhans
Seventeen-year-old Felicia Ward is dead and spending her time in the hive reliving her happy memories. But when Julian, a dark memory from her past, breaks into the hive and demands that she come with him, she discovers that even the afterlife is more complicated and dangerous than she dreamed.

The first book in the series is called Level 2 and I devoured it in a day. Unfortunately the next book, Chasing Before, isn’t set to be published until August 2014. You may want to wait to read Level 2 until you can get your hands on Chasing Before.

ghost and the gothThe Ghost & the Goth by Stacey Kade
It’s the timeless tale of opposites attract. The popular (and snobbish) high school cheerleader/homecoming queen gets hit by a bus and her ghost is stuck in the land of the living. The only person who can see her is a loner Goth kid whom she always thought was a total loser. What happens when the dead and living join forces? Heartwarming humor, of course.

This trilogy has been completed and all books are owned by the library, though I have to admit to feeling a tad unsatisfied at the end of the series. I really want to read more, but alas that’s not meant to be. However, I feel the series is worth reading, especially if you’re as into ghosts and the possibilities of the afterlife as I am.

diviners The Diviners by Libba Bray
Am I obsessed with ghosts and death? Maybe. But The Diviners is a little different. The main character, Evie, is basically shunned from her small Ohio hometown and is sent to live with her uncle in New York City. The year is 1926 and anything is possible for a seventeen year old girl with stars in her eyes and dreams of living the high life in the big city. The author is very faithful to the time period, bringing out elements of the jazz age including the clubs, racism, sexism, muckraking reporting, and most of all, Prohibition that influenced both young and old.

But don’t be confused: this is actually a book that introduces teens with extraordinary supernatural gifts and a great evil that is threatening to take over the world. Remember Voldemort from Harry Potter? It’s like that—only more gruesome, ruthless, and immortal. Unfortunately the next book in the series, Lair of Dreams, won’t be published until—you guessed it—August 2014. That gives us enough time to read and re-read, right?

great and terrible beautyThe Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray
Speaking of Harry Potter, have you met Gemma Doyle? Yes, Libba Bray gets two mentions in this post. A Great and Terrible Beauty, book one in the trilogy, was Libba Bray’s first published book and one I only recently discovered. The trilogy is set in Victorian times at Spence Academy, an all-girls boarding school. Here we meet Gemma, her roommate Ann, as well as fellow students Pippa and Felicity. The girls don’t all get along or fit in—especially Gemma, who was raised in India, where she lived until recently when her mother was killed. Haunted with visions she cannot control, Gemma finds the diary of one of Spence’s former students and consequently stumbles upon a secret world filled with great wonders—and horrors beyond belief. Gemma finds a way to bring herself and her quasi-friends into the world and thus begins a tumultuous journey into the realm of the fairy. Yes—fairy! With such forces at work, what could possibly go wrong?

I quickly read the first two books in the series, but have been waiting until “the right time” to consume the third and final book in the series. Hopefully I’m not leading you astray, since I have no idea how the series ends or what becomes of our protagonists. But based on how much I enjoyed the first two books, I feel confident that you will want to meet Gemma, too.

obsidianThe Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout
I’ve gone on at length about ghosts, the afterlife, and the great beyond. But what about aliens? Turns out I have a fantastic series for you alien-lovers out there. Beginning with Obsidian, we’re introduced to bookaholic Katy, who reviews books on her on book review blog. Gee, can you tell why I liked her from the start? Katy moved with her mom to rural West Virginia to start over after her dad died. Katy’s not impressed with the thick accents and lack of a decent internet connection. But all that changes when she meets her friendly neighbor Dee and her standoffish but totally hot brother Daemon. At first Daemon is antagonistic towards Katy and keeps her at arm’s length. But soon neither can deny their attraction, which leads to—attacking aliens? Yep, Daemon and Dee are aliens and Daemon has inadvertently marked Katy, who becomes a walking beacon for a rival alien race.

Four Lux books have been written and published so far. Jennifer Armentrout is working on writing the fifth book, which will conclude the series when it’s published—you guessed it!—August 2014. I quickly read the first three books in the series but decided to delay reading the rest until the fifth book is published.

So there you have it.  Six stellar series written for teens that adults can love, too. But trust me–I haven’t even scratched the surface. For more recommended teen reads, check out the other YA reviews on this blog. Celebrate Teen Read Week with me, both here and over at the library’s Facebook page. What will you discover? For me, I’ve discovered the need to take some time off to read in August 2014!

Carol

Seek the Unknown – Teen Writing Competition

Are they protecting the tree, or bracing themselves as something approaches from above?

Are they protecting the tree, or bracing themselves as something approaches from above?

Photographs.They exist in almost every household: hidden in attics, growing mildewy in basements, or tucked away on closet shelves. Sometimes they turn up at rummage sales or antique stores, completely divorced from anything that could possibly identify them. If we’re lucky, they wind up at the library with names, places, and dates marked clearly, but more often than not they arrive here orphaned and anonymous. It’s been said that every picture tells a story (thanks Rod Stewart), or that a picture is worth a thousand words; we’re hoping that’s the case, because we’d like our local teen authors and artists to tell stories with our amazing collection of archival photographs.

Kids at play, or kids escaping a pit of alligators? You decide.

Kids at play, or kids escaping a pit of alligators? You decide.

In honor of Teen Read Week, which runs from October 13-19, the Everett Public Library is hosting its second annual fall Teen Writing Competition for Everett students in grades 6-12. Last year’s competition brought in almost 50 entries and resulted in a read aloud night at the Bookend Coffee Co. where some of our winners read their work. Cider and a good time was had by all. You can check out videos of those stories on our YouTube channel (the volume is a bit low on the vids, so be sure to turn them up).

This year we’re hoping that our authors and artists will be inspired by images from our collections to create ‘found photo’ stories. What that means is that characters, places, and events in your stories should be inspired by images found in our collections. In order to let imaginations run wild, we’ve pulled a selection of our photos from our archives, stripped all information from them, and arranged them in this Flickr collection*. Thousands more images can be found on our Digital Collections site; these can be used with or without the identifying information attached to them. From there, we’re looking for either a written story illustrated with as many of our photos as you want, altered in any way you want, or a graphic novel/comic created using them. Competition winners may be featured on the EPL’s site, blog, and at an event at the library in 2014.

Friends posing for a funny photo with props, or a remorseless group of train robbers, laughing about their latest haul?

Friends posing for a funny photo with props, or a remorseless group of train robbers, laughing about their latest haul?

For an excellent example of a found photo story, we highly recommend reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs (we recommend reading it even if you don’t intend to enter the competition – it rocks).

For more information about our competition, including all the guidelines, rules, entry form, and other official stuff, visit our Teen Read Week page. Entries must be received by October 31st at 5pm to be considered, and can be dropped off at either branch or emailed to llabovitch at everettwa.gov. Be sure to keep a copy of your story for your own enjoyment (preferably your original if you’re creating any artwork with it!). Happy storytelling – we’re excited to see what you come up with!

*At the end of the competition we’ll add any information we have about the Flickr photos to their descriptions so you can learn a bit more about them.

Caught in the Act: We Read Banned Books

Sex, drugs, and bathroom humor – all of these and more could land a book on the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged books. In honor of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of our freedom to read whatever we see fit, we’ve asked A Reading Life regulars and guest posters to tell us about their favorite banned books.

The Face on the Milk Carton coverTheresa
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
Janie Johnston’s life was boring, boring, boring until one day at lunch when she grabbed her friend’s milk carton. She was allergic to milk, but one little sip wouldn’t be a big deal, would it? On the milk carton was a picture of a little girl kidnapped from a shopping mall 12 years earlier. Suddenly, Janie remembered the dress, the way the starched collar itched, and the way her braids tickled her cheeks. “The girl on the back of the carton,” she whispered to her friends, “it’s me.” Janie cannot believe that her loving parents kidnapped her, but as she tries to piece together what happened, no other answer makes sense.

This story of Janie’s quest to find answers and to discover her true identity is a captivating read; a book that I have easily sold to teens looking for a good book. I was surprised to find it on a list of frequently challenged books. The most common reasons listed were: challenge to authority, sexual content, and inappropriate for age group. Yes, Janie skips school with her boyfriend Reeve to try to find some clues as to what is the truth of her parentage, (challenge to authority?). The complaint about sexual content really surprised me. I had to reread the book to figure out where that came from. Reeve asks Janie how they will explain skipping school, he says, “they’ll figure it’s sex we wanted….” (sexual content?). “Inappropriate for age group”, is the one complaint that may have some merit when it is coming from elementary school parents since the book deals with teenagers and high school issues. Grade school readers might not be familiar with high school life, and they might not be interested in dating and such, but the plot isn’t particularly what I would consider to be for mature audiences.

I will continue to recommend The Face on the Milk Carton and its sequels. Janie’s dilemma, “What if I am not who I think I am?” is a theme that resonates with teens as they look for their place in the world, and the intrigue as she unravels the mystery of her origin make for a fast read.

The Stupids Step Out coverRon
The Stupids series, by Harry Allard
The Stupids are a wonderful non-conformist family whose adventures can be read about in The Stupids Step Out and The Stupids Have a Ball, among others. Along with their cat Xylophone and dog Kitty, Stanley Stupid, his wife and their two children Buster and Petunia look at life a little differently than most.

A typical day in the Stupid household might include breakfasting in the shower, mowing the rug, interpreting a power outage as death, and sleeping with their feet on their pillows. Illustrations are filled with weird touches such as strangely labeled pictures hanging on walls, people engaged in bizarre activities or wearing odd clothing, and pets who are more clever than their owners.

In other words, these are silly books. There is something for both kids and adults to enjoy and little chance that children will be permanently warped through reading about the Stupids. So be a rebel, read a banned book to your kid. Just make sure to wash their pillowcase after they use it for their stinky feet.

The Glass Castle coverMarge
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
“Don’t I always take care of you,” asks Jeannette Walls’s father, in her memoir, The Glass Castle. In reality he almost never did. Raised by both a father and a mother who seemed genuinely oblivious to the needs of their children, Walls recalls frequent moves, poverty, hunger and neglect. Remarkably, she describes her turbulent family life in a matter-of-fact tone without bitterness or self pity and with flashes of humor and a sense of the ridiculous.

A popular book on the New York Times bestseller list for many weeks, The Glass Castle was also among the top 10 most challenged books in 2012 for offensive language and sexually explicit content according to the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom. Indeed, there is some foul language and one particularly distasteful scene but the language and content simply seem appropriate to the story the author is telling.

Those unlucky enough to be deprived of the opportunity to read this book would miss the story of a woman of great resilience and forbearance who not only survives but prevails. Refusing to let her past define her, Walls moves to New York City at seventeen, finds work, graduates from Barnard College and begins a career as a journalist. As the book ends, she is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at her home for her mother and siblings seemingly at peace with the past.

Blankets cover imageAlan
Blankets by Craig Thompson
This terrific coming-of-age graphic novel was pretty famously challenged for its depiction of a nude teen. How bad is it? Out of 592 pages, we’ve got 1 or 2 pages that are risqué (and beautiful, brutal, and true). Pick up this phonebook-sized volume and your reward is the real deal, a literary depiction of what it is to: come of age with a brother, fall in love, lose your faith, and be a human being. The art is incredibly evocative. Innocence is wide-eyed, with thin lines and graceful flow. Anger is expressionistic, jagged, thick, and black, black, black. Highest possible recommendation.

What did Thompson do next? The gorgeous, even more care wrought Habibi.

We hope this short list has tempted you to take a walk on the wild side and read some banned book with us. For more information about Banned Books Week, and why books are challenged or banned, check out ALA’s excellent collection of resources on the topic.

Who Wants to Live Forever Anyway?

anotherlittlepieceI have hungered for things. I have bargained with people I don’t like. I have hated myself for bargaining with people I don’t like. I have slept and dreamed shameful things. Shameful because I’d give anything to make them come true. When I was younger, that hunger was sharper, burned further and deeper. At 16 I would have sold my soul ten times over to get the thing I wanted. Now in my 30s I can shrug my shoulders at the first hunger pang of wanting something I can’t have. Now, I know better. Now I fully understand that annoying adage of “Be careful what you wish for.”

In Kate Karyus Quinn’s Another Little Piece, Annaliese Rose Gordon has been missing for a year. One day, she shows up in front of a trailer covered in blood and wearing nothing but a garbage bag. She is the missing girl who has come back from the dead. But she’s not Annaliese Rose Gordon. She doesn’t know who she is and her memories are just beyond reach. 

She calls her parents ‘The Mom’ and ‘The Dad’ because they don’t belong to her. She vaguely remembers a party, everybody drinking, music thumping against the ground. She remembers being in the woods with Logan, a high school jock. She had a crush on him forever. She makes a wish ( and believe me, this is no Disney “when you wish upon a star”) and gives her soul away to have Logan’s desire.

Turns out, she wasn’t specific enough. He isn’t in love with her. He just lusts after her. He’s cursed with an obsession for her. After she gives her virginity to him (all the while thinking “This is what I wished for? Hurry up and be done already”), a girl comes into the woods to tell Annaliese that she got what she wished for and now it’s time to pay. The girl makes her say it: “I will pay.” An old barber’s razor blade with names branded into the handle slices through Annaliese’s arm. Her rib cage is broken and her heart taken from her chest to be eaten. This is payment for her deepest desire.

I don’t know about you, but the older I get my wishes are less and less about lust and “having” someone. They’re more about “I wish the dishwasher wasn’t leaking” or “Dear God, there’s only one toilet in this house so please don’t let all 5 of us get the stomach flu at the same time.”

With a chunk of her heart being swallowed, the soul of the real Annliese disappears and the girl who has taken her body goes on to live her life, all the while knowing she’s an imposter with unreliable memories. ‘The Mom’ is fragile and hovers close, touching Annaliese as though she can’t believe she’s really there. ‘The Dad’ is mostly silent in a father’s way, watchful, more worried about the mom than he is with the returned Annaliese.

A squat red-headed boy at school follows Annaliese around. She has no clue who he is or what he meant to the real Annaliese. But this chubby little red-head isn’t just a moon-faced freshman. He’s also a body stealer (and he’s a little mad that he’s in a chubby kid’s body but hey, the chubby kid sold his soul and it was time to pay). Feeling smothered at home and overwhelmed at school Annaliese seeks out the boy next door named Dex. They become close friends, especially after he shares his own secret with her.

More memories start to surface. She calls herself Anna and begins to remember who and where she was before she took Annaliese’s body. The chubby kid tells her that they’ve always been together, taking bodies and then meeting up again. He’s the love of her life. She highly doubts that. He tells her that her 18th birthday is in a week. She has to take another body or suffer the consequences. She’s beginning to feel hunger pains, day dreaming about cracking open rib cages and plucking out beating hearts and eating them.

The cover of this book threw me off (yes, I do judge books by their covers) because I thought it was going to be a teen romance. And while it has a little romance in it, it also has cannibalism, body snatching, and wish-fulfillment. Pretty much the trifecta of what I look for in a book.

Another Little Piece isn’t a book about good versus evil. It’s about that lovely gray area: I’ve done horrible things and I’ll probably have to do some more horrible things to make everything somewhat right. This book definitely goes into my top 5 of great books to fall into this year. And I promise you that you’ll be thinking about it long after you read it. But wish for something good, like a leak-free dishwasher and a second bathroom.

Jennifer