Saturday, May 7, 2011

Trickster's Girl (fiction)

Ley lines and legendary figures from Native American/First Peoples mythology. Bioplague and a Gaia/Earth that can no longer heal itself. Our potential future, Kelsa's world, so much at stake. Read this first book in the Raven Duet outside, under a tree.

Book info: Trickster's Girl / by Hilari Bell. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011. 268 pg [author's site] [publisher site]

Recommendation: As Kelsa is burying Dad’s ashes in the scrap of forest left near the city, a young man with no ID chip approaches her, wondering why she doesn’t believe in magic. Ha! Her father just died of cancer, that curable everyday problem, worrying about the bioplague dropped by terrorists in the Amazon rainforest, the antidote that didn’t work, the deforestation of whole countries that followed. Magic in a world of aircars and compods and microchefs?

This isn’t hocus-pocus magic, Kelsa finds out, as Raven transforms himself into a fish, a bird, right before her eyes. He describes how humankind’s demands have blocked the ley lines of spirit, keeping the earth from healing itself. Now forests can’t fight off the bioplague and humans can’t fight off curable cancers and worse natural disasters loom ahead.

Kelsa has a flicker of magic in her soul, and Raven needs her help to unblock key nexus points on the ley lines from Utah to Alaska with a Native American artifact. But first they have to rob a museum to get it, then slip away from the police without worrying her mother.

Surviving in the wilderness as her dad taught her, escaping from agents of spirits who’d rather erase humanity and start earth anew, riding bikes and motorcycles over mountain trails toward nexus points, crossing boundaries without passports…Can Kelsa really help the earth heal itself? Is Raven the Trickster telling her the whole truth? The first book in a series based in a high-tech, high-security future United States whose only hope is the magic recounted in ancient folklore. (one of 5,000 books recommended on

Friday, May 6, 2011

Why do we read, anyway?

So, why? Why do we read fiction, specifically?

It's easy to talk about all the reasons that we read informational texts - we need to know how to do something or where to get something or how we got to where we are now.

But fiction fills a different role in our lives. Sometimes we read fiction to affirm our own worldview, selecting authors and titles that we know that we'll be comfortable with. Series and novels with predictable plots can be soothing, a stable place to escape for a while from an unpredictable real world.

Other times, we're reading fiction that races in completely the opposite direction, taking us into the life of someone so unlike us that we simply must leave behind a preconception or two so that we can dive into their story as it carries us along. Or we're suddenly in a place whose rules don't correspond to what we understand as normal, regular, and routine.

You'll probably find more of the latter than the former recommended on this blog. After all, don't the bestsellers usually appeal to the masses? Oh, sometimes a novel from one of the BigName publishers will wander onto this list, but not because it satisfies the majority viewpoint, I promise!

And back to why we read fiction - research reported in Psychological Science notes that "When we read, we psychologically become part of the community described in the narrative—be they wizards or vampires. That mechanism satisfies the deeply human, evolutionarily crucial, need for belonging." (Becoming a Vampire). (Hat tip to Barking Up the Wrong Tree)

So whether you read for information or escape or belonging, let's get beyond the bestsellers to the really good stuff, shall we?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Last Summer of the Death Warriors (fiction)

What does life mean when you know - without any doubt - that you are going to die way too young? Is there even any sense in trying to live a good life when the specter of Death haunts your breakfast, lingers in the corners of your backpack, rustles the leaves of the tree you can no longer climb? Two teenage guys try to find the balance - D.Q. knows he's dying fast, Pancho might not care enough to make it through the summer himself...

Francisco X. Stork says on his blog that he concentrates first on being a good writer, then on being a good Latino writer. I'd say that he succeeds at both. Check out his Marcelo in the Real World, too.

Book info: The Last Summer of the Death Warriors / by Francisco X. Stork. Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2010. 352 pgs. [author's website] [publisher website]

Recommendation: His sister dead just 3 months after their widowed father’s death – Pancho had promised to take care of Rosa, sweet Rosa, with her child’s mind in a young woman’s body. Why aren’t the police looking for the man who was with her when she died of “unidentified causes, no foul play”? At 17, Pancho is ready to find that man and make him pay for Rosa’s death.

But he’s not allowed to live alone at 17, gets kicked out of a foster home for fighting, and finds himself at St. Anthony’s orphanage, across town from his family’s trailer in the New Mexico desert where he watched the sunsets and worked with his father. Everyone works at St. Anthony’s; Pancho will help D.Q. whose cancer treatments have finally put him in a wheelchair.

D.Q.’s mother couldn’t handle his dad’s death several years ago and brought him to St. Anthony’s for the summer while she recovered. But summers and years went by with her hardly contacting him, until the cancer hit 6 months ago. Now she’s taking charge, ordering experimental treatments, but her son wants none of it.

D.Q. is writing the Death Warriors’ Manifesto, about how a true death warrior recognizes his someday-death and therefore lives every day till then in order to make a positive difference. Explaining that to everyday, non-philosophical Pancho is another way that D.Q. keeps going through the chemo treatments. Piecing together the clues leading to the man who was with Rosa is what keeps Pancho going. Seeing lovely, caring Marisol at Casa Esperanza during the chemo makes their lives more worthwhile.

Will Pancho find the man and avenge Rosa’s death? Will D.Q.’s mother let him go back to St. Anthony’s after chemo? Can both young men live like true death warriors?

A great story of friendships and choices, of really living versus just being alive. (one of 5,000 books recommended on

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Across the Universe (fiction)

Can the folks in charge really control every bit of what people learn and know? Can history be rewritten so completely that the truth will never be discovered? Take a little trip with this book that moves our fear of the different to a whole 'nother level. And "May the Fourth be with you" - it's Star Wars Day!

Book info: Across the Universe / by Beth Revis. Razorbill (Penguin), 2011. 416 pgs. [author's website] [publisher website] [book website] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Frozen for the 300-year space journey to a new Earth with her scientist parents – what will it really be like, Amy wonders. Centuries pass on the spaceship Godspeed for the placid farmers on the Feeder level and stolid techs on the Shipper level, all 20 or 40 or 60 years old, each "gen" all born the same year following the Season of mating, same color skin, same color hair, same color eyes.

Elder was born a dozen years earlier than his gen, so that his training as their leader will be complete when he becomes Eldest. Because the Elder before him died early, he is trained by crotchety Eldest who should have already retired and dislikes the teenager’s questions. Life aboard ship requires harmony and working together and strong leadership and no individuality, says Eldest.

Why didn’t he tell Elder about the lower level below the Feeder farm blocks, a level filled with frozen people waiting to be reanimated when they reach Centauri-Earth? That level’s alarms sound as a Frozen’s cryo is turned off, and a pale-skinned, red-haired teenage girl wakes up. Amy is stunned to find that her parents aren’t awake, that the ship is decades away from landing, that she’s trapped in this tiny world with people who know only a sanitized version of Earth’s history, one that reinforces uniformity and follows a strong leader without questions.

Suddenly other cryos are turned off with no alarms sounding, and experts from the past are dead, sent through the hatch into the vacuum of space by Eldest like any other dead bodies.

Who is killing the cryos? Are the crazy people in the hospital the only sane ones on Godspeed? Will Amy ever talk to her parents again?

A great space thriller, with plenty of questions about ethics, leadership, and humanity. Will the ship ever reach its destination? (one of 5,000 books recommended on

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Warriors in the Crossfire, by Nancy Bo Flood (fiction) - Pacific island incident World War II

book cover of Warriors in the Crossfire by Nancy Bo Flood published by Front Street Books
So many small "incidents of war" go unchronicled, unrecognized. But just imagine their effects on the families whose lands and lives the battles cross and re-cross. Go to Saipan during WWII, during the Japanese Occupation, during the erasure of a traditional way of life in this gripping book.

Book info: Warriors in the Crossfire / by Nancy Bo Flood. Front Street Books, 2010. [author's website] [publisher website]

Recommendation: Eager to learn to steer ocean outrigger canoes, Joseph instead must watch as the invading Japanese army makes islander men clear the jungle for runways rather than fishing to feed their families. Instead of sitting in the men’s council of his clan on his 14th birthday, Joseph is searching for shore crabs and coconuts. Instead of school time with his half-Japanese cousin Kento, he has only worry for his family and a mental map of the hidden cave where his father stockpiled water and food as whispered words warned of the approaching American forces.

When the message to vanish comes, Joseph must lead his mother, sister, and toddler nephew silently through the jungle, armed only with his father’s ceremonial knife. As fighter planes scream overhead, the family huddles in the tiny cave and hopes the water jugs will last. Which soldiers will find them first – the Japanese, who will behead them for treachery to the Emperor, or the white-faced Americans, who might eat them?

Can honor and family both stay alive in such horror? Will the Japanese use all the Rafalawash people of Saipan as a human wall against the American invaders? Will Joseph see his father or cousin again in this lifetime?

The battles of World War II overran the native populations of many Pacific Islands, and their death tolls rarely count the thousands of islanders who also perished in the crossfire. (one of 5,000 books recommended on

Monday, May 2, 2011

Start It Up, by Kenrya Rankin (nonfiction) - your small-business guide

book cover of Start It Up by Kenrya Rankin published by Zest Books
If you're thinking about starting a business, I suggest you check out this book - Rankin has great checklists, quizzes, and advice, all in a well-crafted package. New best friend for up-and-coming entrepreneurs, ask for it at your local library or independent bookstore.

Book Info: Start It Up: The Complete Teen Business Guide to Turning Your Passions Into Pay / by Kenrya Rankin. Zest Books, 2011.

My Recommendation: Your hobby or favorite activity could be a great way to make money, so use this business guide for teens to get started! Successful entrepreneurs (people who start their own business and work for themselves) work hard, communicate well, can multitask, are organized, and manage their time and money carefully – if you don’t have all these skills, you can learn them as you create your business.

Well-organized, with many checklists and questions to ask yourself, Start It Up helps you write a business plan, scope out your prospects, build a realistic budget, and keep track of all the paperwork entailed in owning your company. Quotes and notes from teen entrepreneurs who’ve succeeded in their chosen line of work are encouraging, yet realistic.

You’ll learn about hiring and managing employees, publicizing your business, providing great customer service, and using your business to make the world a better place. Lots of resources for each chapter point you to sources of further information.

Whether it’s gathering a board of advisors, raising start-up money, registering your business name, or filing your self-employment taxes (yes, you have to pay taxes even if you’re not an adult), you’ll find information and remember-this guides to help you avoid common new-business pitfalls as you follow your passions to a well-deserved payday.
(one of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Blogathon 2011

Yes, I signed up for the Blogathon 2011 challenge as set forth by to blog every single day in May.

Why? So we bloggers can make our communication a habit, so we can be intentional about creating that good habit, maybe so we can make sure we really have something to say after all!

But the best thing for me is that nudging from comrades-in-arms who've also signed up for Blogathon - we're all trying to keep each other on track and posting daily.

So, away we go, in the merrie, merrie month of May, with good books just ahead....

The right book for the right reader

Did you ever get a recommendation for a book or movie that was just-right, that struck a chord in your heart, that you quoted from long afterward?

This blog will introduce you to young adult (YA) books of every genre, books that
often take place far beyond our own neighborhood, yet show us ourselves in a new light. Many are from smaller publishers or first-time authors. All are worth your consideration.

If you're in high school or older, every book on this blog is for you. I'll note any significant situations of violence that may disturb sensitive readers, but will assume that you know yourself well enough to put aside any book that embarrasses or bores you. I agree with Daniel Pennac's Rights of the Reader, seen with Quentin Blake's illustrations at

I blog about fascinating, underappreciated YA books because I've fallen in love with them or the characters won't let me go or the situation portrayed is so startling that I have to make sure you have a chance to experience it, too. Many publishers send me books, and I am free to review or discard any title.

For starting me on the book recommendation path, I thank Barb Langridge with all my heart; every recommendation posted originally on her wonderful site (where I continue to recommend great books for kids, tweens, and teens) will be tagged as such. All selectors' notes are new to this blog, but no story spoilers are ever given!!

Please share what you think about the books - talking about what we've read just makes it better!