Summer Reading for Everyone!

It is a busy time of year for Youth Services Librarians! We know how hard students work all year to strengthen their reading skills, and we don’t want them to lose those gains over the summer. This is one of the main reasons why we are so enthusiastic about our Summer Reading Program!  We want youths to read for at least 30 minutes every day so that they continue to build their reading skills and we have designed our summer program around this goal. We take this so seriously, our very own Andrea even wrote a song about it!

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Have any questions about our reading program? We have answers!

Who can participate?
Our Youth Summer Reading Program is for anyone going into 12th grade or under. We also have a separate adult summer reading program that anyone else can sign up for.

What counts as “reading?”
For our youth program, we really like to emphasize that any form of reading counts including but not limited to reading on your own, stories read aloud by someone else, reading to younger siblings, listening to audiobooks, and of course, reading graphic novels and comics.

How does the program work?
For our youth program, we are challenging readers to read a total of 24 hours over the course of the summer. This can be broken down into half-hour segments. On our reading log, each half of a book represents one half-hour of reading. Starting on July 10 readers can bring their logs in for prizes. Prizes are awarded at 12 hours and 24 hours, and will be available until August 31 (or until we run out).

  • 12 hour prize: pick a prize from our Mystery Box!
  • 24 hour prize: choose a free book!

If they complete the full 24 hours by August 18, readers will also receive an invitation to our end of the summer party, where they get to meet Mayor Ray Stephanson and they get entered into a drawing for a chance to win a grand prize which varies depending on their age.

Adult Summer Reading is a bit different. The reading log has eight reading challenges. Complete one and return the log for a chance to win an Everett Public Library coffee mug. Complete at least seven, and be entered to win one of two Everett Public Library tote bags!

I like prizes! How do I sign up?
To sign up, just pick up a reading log at any one of our reference desks. Logs are already available, and students can begin the reading challenge as soon as their school ends for the summer.

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Like I said, we take this seriously! And we want to make sure that we get as many opportunities to tell students about this program and get them excited about all the great books they can read this summer. That’s why we spend several weeks in May and June visiting schools. During these school visits, we talk about the Summer Reading Program but we also do a lot of book talks. Book talks are exactly what they sound like – we bring a bunch of books and we tell the students about them. The majority of my visits this year are to Middle Schools and I have included several of my book talks below.

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The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson
Matthew has a cruel nickname, the goldfish boy. This is because he never leaves his house and rarely leaves his room. He suffers from an extreme form of OCD and the world beyond his four walls is too overwhelming for him to handle so he stays in his safe place, like a goldfish in a tank.

Because he can’t leave the house Matthew spends a lot of his time watching his neighborhood, noting people’s coming and goings, their habits and their quirks. It’s through this hobby that he happens to be the last person to see a young neighbor’s toddler before the child is shockingly kidnapped.

Matthew is certain that he is the only one who can solve the case, since he was the last one to see the boy. But Matthew soon realizes that his neighbors have secrets, and that they are all suspects. So Matthew must figure out how to save this child, all while facing his fears, controlling his anxiety, and stretching the boundaries of his world.

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The Pants Project, by Cat Clarke
Middle school can be a scary time for anyone. You have to make new friends, face a ton of new teachers, and manage way more homework. Who wouldn’t feel overwhelmed!? But when Liv starts middle school he has even bigger issues. See everyone believes that Liv is a girl, because that was his assigned birth gender but he knows that he is actually a boy.  Considering that not even his friends or family know about this yet, it adds some stress to his life but not as much stress as a rule at his new middle school – all girls must wear skirts.

Liv hates skirts and can’t imagine wearing them every day. He also believes it is unfair to others. Plenty of girls, he figures, would rather be able to wear pants and they should be allowed to!  So he starts a movement to get this policy changed. Unsurprisingly, he meets plenty of resistance and Liv must decide if he is willing to stand up for himself and for his beliefs, even if it means exposing his personal secrets to his new school and even the wider world.

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Empress of a Thousand Skies, by Rhoda Belleza
Intrigue, murder, war, deceit, BUT ALL IN SPACE!

Rhee is the last of her line. Her family has been killed and Rhee believes it was intentional, but she is about to assume the galactic throne and as Empress she will finally have her revenge. Then Rhee is brutally attacked and nearly killed. She escapes with the help of a strange and ruthless ally but must go into hiding unsure of who to trust, fearful of who might betray her next and determined to finally exact her revenge.

Alyosha, a soldier turned reality TV star, is no stranger to contempt. He is from a planet of dark-skinned refugees and has overcome bigotry through hard work and determination. When Rhee is attacked, he is framed for her attempted murder and his life falls apart. Like Rhee, he is on the run, unsure of who to trust or how to clear his name. With the help of old comrades and new allies, Rhee and Aly must find a way to discover their betrayers and reveal them to the world. And they need to act fast if they want to prevent a disastrous interplanetary war!

The Left-Handed Fate25774386, by Kate Milford
The year is 1812, America and Britain are at war once again and Oliver Dexter, a 12-year-old American sailor, has just gotten his first (accidental) command- a captured pirate ship.

On this ship are several prisoners including Lucy the daughter of the privateer captain and Max a young man who believes he is close to discovering a weapon so powerful that it would not only end this war, but all future wars as well. Although Oliver is determined to follow orders, he is tempted by both the friendship and the mission of Lucy and Max. So Oliver chooses to help his two young companions jeopardizing his standing in the navy and the safety of his crew, although he is not certain whether he is doing so because he believes in their cause or to ensure that this mysterious weapon is destroyed before it puts his own young country at risk.

This book plays with a fun and exciting time in history but it does not stick to the rules. Instead it flirts with the mystical and mythological, giving otherworldly qualities to a mostly real world.

51f+8+iExbL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_In the Shadow of Liberty: the Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives, by Kenneth C. Davis
In school we learn a lot of deservedly great things about the founding fathers of America. At times it is far too easy to overlook the fact that many of these men were slave owners, while many more profited off the labor of slaves. This book tells the stories of five people, Billy Lee, Ona Judge, Isaac Granger, Paul Jennings and Alfred Jackson who were owned by Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Jackson.

Beyond telling their stories, Davis goes to great effort to give us the information we need to understand the times they lived in. For example, Ona Judge was a woman who was owned by George and Martha Washington. At the time, the US Capital was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where a law decreed that if any slaves of a certain age remained in the state for six months they were freed. To prevent his own slaves, like Ona, from being freed, Washington would move his slaves from the Capital to his Virginia plantation before six months had gone by. It is certainly difficult to reconcile this behavior with some of the more positive stories we learn about Washington.

Davis also shows how these oft-forgotten individuals, who were considered property, had complex relationships with the Presidents who enslaved them and often had sufficient influence to shape history in profound ways. This book is an unflinchingly honest depiction of the ways our early leaders, though supposed champions of liberty, were deeply entwined in a system that enslaved and exploited millions.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe51SpFoMEW3L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_, by Ryan North
Squirrel Girl is exactly what she sounds like. A teen with the incredible power of squirrels! She has squirrel strength and super senses and she can speak squirrel, so she has an army of squirrels that she can summon. Oh, and she truly is unbeatable. She’s taken down many of Marvel’s greatest villains who make the grave mistake of underestimating her powers.

In this issue, which is a great place to dive in, she is accidentally cloned. At first this is great- double the crime fighting squirrel girls! But her clone is determined to destroy mankind after concluding that most problems are caused by humans, while very few are caused by squirrels. So it is up to the REAL squirrel girl to save the day with a little help from the Avengers.

Goldie Vance, by Hope Larson51JS3Wqvz4L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_
Goldie Vance is probably the coolest character that I’ve encountered this year. She’s 16 years old and lives with her Dad at a resort he manages in Florida. Although she has tons of skills, including being a top-notch car-chase driver, her true gift is solving mysteries. Her dream is to become the resort’s official detective. She gets her chance to prove her value when a guest complains that a piece of priceless jewelry was stolen from his room. Before Goldie knows it, she’s been swept up into exciting Cold War intrigue complete with rocket scientists, Russian spies, and much more.  This is an ongoing series that I am really really excited about.

Richard Dawson Doesn’t Host This Version of Family Feud

I believe there are thin places in this world. The term ‘thin places’ refers to areas in the world where the veil between heaven and earth is particularly thin but I think the term applies to other dimensions, other worlds. There are stories about people out for a stroll who blink and suddenly they’re in a place that looks like the road they were walking on but it’s different. Or there’s the story of a man out walking his dog when his dog takes off and the man chases after him. The man soon finds himself in a slightly different world, a world where John Lennon is still alive, the Twin Towers never fell. The McRib is always available.

In A Million Junes by Emily Henry, Jack “June” O’Donnell (all the offspring share the name Jack, even if a daughter is born) has one rule to follow: stay away from the Angert family. There’s been a deep feud between the O’Donnells and the Angerts for a century even though no one can remember exactly why. June lives with her mother, stepfather and two brothers in Five Fingers, Michigan in a house in a powerful thin place.

If you leave shoes on the porch, coywolves (a mix between coyotes and wolves) will come and steal them away. Window Whites, soft floating orbs, travel throughout the house and bonk against windows. Feathers is a ghost with a pink sheen who is always there, drifting in corners, shimmering where June can see her. Another ghost, a black shadow June calls Nameless, hovers nearby and unlike Feathers, who gives off a comforting vibe, Nameless oozes malevolence.

June’s father, Jack the III, died ten years ago and June still lives in the bubble of him: of his tall tales about the O’Donnell family, how both his family and the Angerts are cursed. If something good happens to the Angerts, something terrible befalls the O’Donnell’s and vice versa. Even though June has set her father up on a pedestal she doesn’t know why there’s hatred between the families.

One evening in the fall, Saul Angert returns home after being away for three years. He’s come back to take care of his father who has dementia. Of course they run into each other (literally, she almost knocks him down and somehow manages to bite him in the shoulder) and don’t you know, there is an instant chemistry. They do their best to stay away from each other but both know it is a losing battle.

June has no plans to go to college and puts little effort into school. Until she takes a creative writing class and puts to paper all the stories her father told her. A new world opens up to her. But one evening, one of the Window Whites lands on her skin and she’s thrown into a memory of when she was a child and her father was telling one of his stories. June craves more memories but what she finds at the other end is more than she bargained for.

Soon she and Saul are both given the Window White treatment and both see memories of not only their pasts but the pasts of their relatives. June finds out her father might not be everything she once thought he was. But she’s determined to go into the thin place to find him. And Saul is right there ready to go with her to find out what happened all those years ago to make their families despise one another. They want to break the curse. They want to love.

You guys, I couldn’t put this books down. I know I say that about every book I read but for this one I set my alarm clock an hour earlier than usual just so I could read it. I’m not into woo-woo magic and otherworldly love stories. This novel isn’t like that. The magic and wonder and terror in this story is subtle. It’s a story not only about falling in love but also about realizing the people you love aren’t who you thought they were. But finding that out doesn’t change the fact that you were beyond loved.

If you want a tale about falling in love with someone you’re meant to be with, the wonder of a place that sits between two worlds, and the unbreakable bond of family, get this book. Really. I mean, like, yesterday.

I gotta go. I just found a thin place in the woods behind my house and I swear I can hear Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison tuning their guitars.

The Race for the Roses

I’m not much for holidays and birthdays can kick it, but the first Saturday in May? That’s a day to celebrate.

I grew up in Saratoga Springs, a small city in upstate New York famous for it’s “Health, History and Horses.” Just outside of town lies Saratoga Battlefield, where the turning point of the American Revolution was fought. Throughout town there are natural springs with water famed for its restorative properties (if you can get over the rotten egg smell) that once brought celebrities, socialites and presidents to town. But Saratoga’s proudest reputation is as the Graveyard of Champions. Our racecourse, which first opened a month after the Battle of Gettysburg, is known for producing some of the most shocking upsets in racing history. This is where a horse fittingly named Upset beat the great Man o’ War, where Secretariat fell to Onion, and the latest Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah was defeated by Keen Ice. Like I said: health, history AND HORSES.

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My sweet Saratoga home

All of this is to say that I am very excited for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby when 20 spoiled three-year-olds will sprint a mile and a quarter vying for a blanket of roses, a spot in the record books, and a cool 1.425 million dollars. If you want to catch Derby fever, it’s not too late! We have plenty of great books to help you dive into the proud, storied, and often shady world of racing.

I can’t possibly start this list with anyone other than Dick Francis. Before becoming a prolific and celebrated mystery writer, Francis was a champion Steeplechase jockey in Britain. He even had the distinction of riding the Queen Mother’s horses for several years. After retiring, he brought his deep love and extensive knowledge of the sport to his writing, crafting clever mysteries with plots orbiting the world of racing. What truly sets Francis’ novels apart is his devotion to research. Whether his protagonist is a meteorologist, a lawyer, a veterinarian or a photographer, Francis clearly did his homework and I’ve always learned new and interesting facts from these fast-paced thrillers.

33a80220-c935-0132-4594-0ebc4eccb42fYou can’t really go wrong with any of Francis’ novels, but I’d suggest starting with his first. Dead Cert follows Alan York, a young jockey who witnesses the death of a fellow rider in a mid-race fall. York believes that this death was no accident, and he is determined to bring his friend’s killers to justice, no matter the cost. This cagey mystery in not only a wonderful introduction to Francis’ writing, it also features one of my all-time favorite chase scenes.

But enough with the Brits, you say, the Kentucky Derby is an American race! Fair enough. There are plenty of racing stories about desperation, cruelty and corruption at the racetrack. Jaimy Gordon’s National Book Award Winner, Lord of Misrule, is proof of that. Gordon brings you into the world of Indian Mound Downs, a run-down racetrack in 1970’s West Virginia. This novel follows a cast of hard-luck characters as they strive for their small slice of racing glory, be it through hard work, wisdom, deception, or methods far more sinister.

For even darker fare you can head to Kentucky, the heart of the American racing industry. The scope of C.E. Morgan’s The Sport of Kings makes it difficult to summarize. This work spans the latter half of the 20th Century telling the story of a cruel and wealthy horseman determined to make racing history, his willful daughter, and a groom who helps tend to their horses. The picture Morgan paints is often ugly and does not flinch from confronting the lingering legacy of racism and bigotry in both the world of racing and America at large. This is a gut punch of a novel and goes far beyond the world of horses, but it’s also a fascinating look inside racing’s troubled world.

Scorpio-paperback-websiteIf you want your racing stories with a supernatural flare, try Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. On a small island surrounded by cruel stormy seas, lives revolve around a yearly race. But these races use no ordinary horses. Instead the jockeys ride on water horses, wild and unpredictable creatures that are herded from the sea and ridden by only the bravest, most reckless young men on the island. That is until Puck enters the race. Puck is the first female rider to ever enter the race, and many would love to see her fail. This is not an option for Puck, however; her family’s house and land depend on the outcome of the race. If this pressure is not enough for a young orphan trying to support her siblings, Puck must also fight to ignore her growing feelings for the race’s returning champion, a quiet young man with his own haunted past.

exterminator_cover_0Finally, I’ve got something for the history buffs. If you ask a casual racing fan about the winner of the 1918 Kentucky Derby, Exterminator, you are likely to get a blank stare. I’ll admit, I had never heard of him before reading Eliza McGraw’s Here Comes Exterminator!: The Long Shot Horse, the Great War, and the Making of an American Hero. Exterminator was a fascinating horse, a long-shot turned hero who raced an astounding 99 times in his career. McGraw expertly weaves Exterminator’s story into a larger saga that captures a snapshot of the United States in the years surrounding World War I, a traumatic time filled in equal measures with ebullient glamour and puritanical temperance.

Hopefully you are now feeling some small sliver of my excitement for Saturday’s race. And if you want to know who I like to win, you’ll have to find me in the Library.

America Undone

It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel….a little itchy and anxious to be honest.

It is possible that I enjoyed myself an inappropriate amount while reading Omar El Akkad’s American War. The title probably betrays this fact, but this is not exactly a delightful romp. Set in the late 21st Century during the second Civil War, this novel 32283423presents an upsetting and eerily plausible portrayal of our near future. Ostensibly this war is fought over a national ban on fossil fuels, but the roots of the conflict creep far deeper into the national psyche, playing on centuries old resentments and cultural differences (but good news – “proud, pacifist Cascadia” is far from the front lines).

American War follows the life of a young woman named Sarat, born into a chaotic South devastated by flooding, famine, war, and the worst elements of humanity. Sarat spends her formative years in a refugee camp, witnessing both the fanatical partisanship of the Southern rebels and the cruel indifference of the Northern war machine. As Sarat grows older, she finds herself drawn into the war that has defined her existence, becoming an agent of death that will help shape history and bring about grave and devastating consequences.

So, yeah, I realize that doesn’t sound terribly cheery, but El Akkad’s deft narrative style sucked me deep into this novel. By mixing Sarat’s story with government dispatches, oral reports, written records and other “source material,” American War had the feel of an upsetting historical account. At the same time I found myself without context, unsure of how events would unfold and where bias existed in the presentation, but still burdened by the full knowledge of these events terrible impact.

Station_Eleven_CoverPerhaps I have a morbid streak as I have always enjoyed dark and disastrous accounts of imagined futures. For me, the immediate comparison for American War is Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. Like American War, Station Eleven presents our future in stark and frightening terms – it follows a travelling Shakespearean troupe in the years after a viral pandemic devastates humanity, leaving only scattered pockets of survivors in its wake. It also shares American War’s storytelling technique, incorporating various source materials from before, during, and after the height of the catastrophe.

World_War_Z_book_coverI feel compelled to also mention World War Z, by Max Brooks. Please don’t judge this book because of the movie based on it. Designed to be read as an oral history, each section is narrated by a different survivor of a zombie apocalypse, describing responses and containment attempts by different groups across the globe. With this narrative Brooks crafts a book that is as much a consideration of international relations as it is a zombie novel. Rather than a work of horror, this is a novel of logistics and strategy in the face of terrible catastrophe. If you enjoy audiobooks, this title makes a particularly great listen as many talented and diverse voices were cast to portray the book’s narrators.

unwindNow, I’m a Youth Services Librarian and I just talked about three ADULT novels, so I have to plug some YA. The Unwind series by Neal Shusterman takes place after a second American civil war fought over reproductive rights. When partisan militias fight to a stalemate, a compromise is reached. Though abortion is outlawed, unwanted children between ages 13 and 18 can be “unwound,” a process through which they are physically dismantled and recycled for transplants. The justification for this macabre policy is that every part of the unwound teenagers is reused, and therefore the body lives on. I realize that this premise sounds as absurd as it is disgusting, but Shusterman is a masterful writer and takes the time to illustrate how this policy slowly developed at the hands of well-meaning policy makers. By the end of the series it feels a little too plausible for my comfort.

ashfallpb_hiresMike Mullin’s Ashfall also does a superb job portraying societal collapse. Ashfall follows a teen after the (very real) supervolcano under Yellowstone National Park erupts. Spoiler alert: things don’t go well unless you’re a fan of sunless days, endless winter, famine, and roving gangs of cannibals. Despite a whole lot of death and destruction, this is an enjoyable and ultimately hopeful series. Scientists confidently assert that this supervolcano won’t erupt anytime soon. Probably.

136471._SX1280_QL80_TTD_Finally, before I leave to ponder our impending ruin, I just want to mention one graphic novel. Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra follows a twenty something slacker named Yorick and his pet monkey after a mysterious virus leaves them the only two living males of any species. Chaos quickly ensues and it is awesome.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this short walk from “great book” to “WE’RE ALL DOOMED.” If you need me, I’ll be taking deep breaths and either hiding under a desk or stockpiling canned goods.

The Book Jumper

Bibliophile: bib·lio·phile \ˈbi-blē-ə-ˌfī(-ə)l\: noun :a person who collects or has a great love of books. SEE ALSO: Carol.

Now that you know my soul, you’ll understand that I initially picked up The Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser because I was captivated by the gorgeous cover. A teenage girl appears to pop out of the pages of an open book, where she finds a knight made out of story pages. There are swirls of magic, and bright stars pop in contrast against the blue background.

It’s gorgeous. And the story is even more so.

Amy Lennox and her mom have been living in Germany until they abruptly pack what they can and leave for the Scottish island of Stormsay. They’re going to stay with Amy’s maternal grandmother, Lady Mairead, who insists that Amy read while she stays with her at Lennox House. But it’s not just any sort of reading. Amy was born a book jumper and requires training to fulfill her potential–and she’s literally years behind other book jumpers her age.

Book jumpers can jump into the stories inside books and interact with the world contained within. Her training requires that she not interfere with the story, but her curiosity gets the better of her and soon she’s befriending characters and seeing the story from a different angle. However, it’s not all fun and games, as Amy soon learns that someone has been stealing from the books, essential pieces of important stories that will crumble unless everything is returned. To make matters worse, it seems as though Amy may be in danger herself.

Can she trust her fellow students? Has her grandmother gone batty? Or is someone else sneaking into the literary worlds they are sworn to protect at all costs?

I was absolutely delighted with the magic in this world. The training to hone Amy’s book jumper skills is detailed and consistent. I really love when an author can build a magic system that doesn’t contradict itself–that totally takes me out of the story. Between trying to solve the mystery of the literary thefts and wondering if Amy was going to hook up with fellow book jumper Will, I was skipping sleep in favor of turning the pages until there were no more left to turn.

If that wasn’t compelling enough, I started looking at the books around my house and imagining what it would be like to be thrust into the worlds contained inside the bindings. Danger, romance, magic, and adventure would await around every corner. And the same is true for those who read The Book Jumper.

Anyone who considers themselves a bibliophile is going to want to curl up with The Book Jumper. But you might want to keep a paperweight on your copy of Dracula.  You know. Just in case vampires can jump out of books now.

Book and an Album: Identity and Otherness

If you want to excite a Librarian, tell them that a book award is being announced. Seriously, try it. We love these prize/honor lists because we get to see incredible authors and illustrators get the recognition they deserve, but also because it is a surefire way to find remarkable books to read and share with others. I discovered Watched by Marina Budhos when it was named an honor book for the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. A short plot summary was enough to convince me I had to read this book.

Naeem is a young man caught between expectations and desires. As a first generation Bangladeshi immigrant, he is aware of the sacrifices that his parents make for him, and feels the pressure to succeed. As a Muslim, he knows that he is expected to be respectful and pious even while he questions his faith. And finally, as an older brother he knows that he is a role model to a young boy who reveres him.

Watched-CoverYet Naeem has his own ideas. He goes to school in Queens and his experiences are far different from his parents and other elders. And because Naeem is a teenager, his brain is hardwired to make some rash decisions (really – it’s science). After making a string of poor choices, it isn’t too surprising when Naeem finds himself in an interrogation room facing accusations and likely arrest by the NYPD. Instead, the police offer Naeem an alternative – watch his neighborhood and its mosques, report on “suspicious” activity, and make some decent money in the process.

Naeem desperately agrees to this offer and things start off fairly well. Naeem feels like a hero. He believes that by watching his neighborhood he can keep trouble makers from ruining the reputation of the hard-working majority of his community. It doesn’t hurt that he is also earning enough money to help his parents make ends meet. But as the pressure to produce actionable intelligence increases, and the police turn their focus to people close to Naeem, he faces difficult choices about his identity, his community and his sense of right and wrong.

While Watched deals with heavily politicized topics, the book has few outright heroes or villains. Watched works largely in the gray, giving complex motives to characters whether they are exploitative police officers, terror suspects, misunderstanding parents or troubled teenagers. The ideas in this novel are as nuanced as the characters and Budhos uses Naeem’s trials to explore difficult questions. Among the most significant concepts in Watched is that of the “good immigrant,” a nebulous phrase that can serve as a disservice to both those it includes and excludes. Watched is a compelling story that left me unsettled, challenged my assumptions, and rewarded my time.

a0908914594_16Need an album to pair with Watched? Try the Swet Shop Boys’ debut album, Cashmere. Swet Shop Boys are the rappers Heems and Riz MC, better known as the actor Riz Ahmed. Together, they make music that is both pointedly political and raucously hilarious, with gorgeous production that leans heavily on South Asian samples. Heems and Riz MC trade rhymes exploring identity, race, inequality and otherness with dexterity, refusing to shy away from controversy and pushing the comfort boundaries of the listener. Given that Heems first broke out as part of the group Das Racist, with the song Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, it should come as no surprise that this album has plenty of lighter moments and more than a few explicit references. Make no mistake; this is an album that provokes. Several of the songs tell stories from perspectives that may offend. Yet these are also stories that feel real and urgent, presenting perspectives that are underrepresented in both popular music and hip-hop.

Groundhog Day, Teenage Style

When I was young, I would hear my mother and her friends recounting their high school days. And not in a ‘remember the good old days of high school’ kind of way. Anybody who says high school was the best four years of their lives is obviously drug addled and should not be trusted. But the one thing I would hear over and over was “If I could go back knowing what I know now…..”

A few years after high school I would start saying the same thing. 22 years after graduating high school, I still have nightmares that I’m back in school but I’m 39. I can’t remember my locker combination, I haven’t done any homework for three months, and I’m starting to get that ‘I’m not going to graduate’ panic. Then I realize “I’m 39 years old. I don’t need my algebra book. These people can’t tell me when or if I’m going to graduate.” And then I wake up relieved and go to work where it’s a different kind of high school experience, but this time I get paid for it.

I love YA books and I don’t really know how to explain it. If anything, I’d rather have credit card debt than be 17 again. But there are times while reading a young adult novel that I’ll think: If I had to do it all over again, go back knowing what I know now, I could really incite a riot. I’d tell that smug AP English teacher who didn’t think I was a good writer to shove it. I’d tell the misogynistic vice principal that he wasn’t General Patton. I’d tell that one girl….well, I’d tell her everything she needed to know.

In Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall Samantha Kingston gets a do-over but not in a good way.

Samantha is a part of the most popular girls clique in high school. She’s gorgeous, has a beautiful boyfriend, and is in the prime of her life. Samantha used to be a nerd who loved to ride horses (which I don’t really understand how that makes her a nerd but whatever) but then focused on becoming popular. Her group of friends aren’t the nicest people but they’re her best friends and she would do anything for them. On Friday, February 12th, Samantha and her gang go to a house party and Samantha plans to go all the way with her boyfriend for the first time. Do people still say ‘all the way?’ Losing your virginity sounds kind of like you set it down on a shelf at Target and then walked away only to go try and find it an hour later.

Anyway, everyone is at this party and they are so drunk my own liver was starting to ache. Samantha and her friends have been drinking for hours and they decide it’s time to motor. The four of them get into a car (I know. How stupid can they be? They’ve been drinking and they get behind the wheel.) It’s icy out, they’re all feeling pretty good, the radio’s blasting and then they get into a car crash. Samantha, sitting in the passenger seat, is supposed to die.

She wakes up the next morning thinking the entire thing was a nightmare. Until the day starts playing out exactly as it did the day before, people say the same things they said before, and her classes are exactly the same as the day before. Samantha’s feeling really off but decides to go with it. She goes to the same party that night and everything happens again. She wakes up the next morning to the same day. She’s officially freaked out.

And this keeps happening.

Until she figures out she needs to start making changes. She starts off with little things and they don’t make a difference. And then she realizes she’s going to have to go big and make changes that will affect everyone.

What starts off as a seemingly regular YA book turns out to be a look inside (and you guys know how much I hate delving inside and inspecting my feelings too much) to see what we’d do not only to save others but also the sacrifices we thought we’d never have to face.