Saturday, May 28, 2011

Green Angel (fiction)

Notes: And the world as you know it ends.

What would you do if everyone, everything was taken from you? How could you cope, not yet 16, the ash falling, falling, falling... The end of Days? Prophecy coming to pass? Invasion?

This slim volume holds much sadness, many fears, and a fragment of hope as a young woman tries to go on living after unimaginable disaster.

Followed by Green Witch, tomorrow's featured book.

Book info: Green Angel / by Alice Hoffman; illustrated by Matt Mahurin. Scholastic, 2003. [author's website] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Black ashes fill the sky, as the City across the river burns. Green thought it wasn’t fair that she had to stay in the garden while her little sister and parents took their produce to the market across the bridge. Soon she would be 16 and could move to the city if she wanted to. She was always shy around other people while her sister, Aurora, glowed with happiness. But fire rained down on the City, burned the bridge, and consumed her family.

Green doesn’t need her ember-burnt eyes to see how the ashes kill the birds, blanket the garden, and smother the plants. She tattoos herself with each memory of loss, hacks off her hair, and armors herself against the world in her father’s coat sewn over with thorns, renaming herself Ash.

Food becomes scarce, and looters try to take over the farm. Hearing more than seeing, Ash gets through one day, then the next, with her sister’s dog as companion.

Will the sun never shine again? Why was the City attacked? Will this world remain ashes and death forever, or will it be green again someday? This short lyrical tale traces Ash's despair and Green's hope. Next in the series is Green Witch.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Flawless (fiction)

Welcome to senior year, time to strive for those scholarships (if you're Sarah) or coast until graduation (apply to a party-school college like Kristen, yeah). It's all set for these best friends at their Houston high school, until handsome, brainy Rock arrives... sigh!

Funny and truthful, this debut novel by a Texas author is right on the nose, I mean, right on target. How much should Sarah help her friend as Kristen tries to snag the new guy? Just one text message? Their whole online correspondence?

Grab a big Dr Pepper (make it Diet, if you're Sarah), ignore the rhinoplasty surgery brochures from her mom, and follow Sarah's journey as she redefines love, friendship, and her own self-worth.

Book info: Flawless / by Lara Chapman. Bloomsbury, 2011. [author's website ] [publisher site]

Recommendation: When smart, handsome Rock transfers to their Houston high school, Sarah feels an immediate connection. So does her cute best friend Kristen who does NOT have Sarah’s enormous nose. Sigh…

In fact, the only other person ever burdened with that huge nose is Sarah’s mom, who had plastic surgery on hers before college and is now a popular TV newscaster. No one can believe that they are mother and daughter, because of Sarah’s nose. A career in off-camera journalism is Sarah’s life plan!

When Kristen asks Sarah to help her write ‘smart’ notes and online messages to Rock so that he’ll like her more, Sarah can’t let her feelings for him ruin their friendship, can she? While their English class project brings Sarah and Rock together intellectually, Rock and Kristen become the cutest couple on campus. But can Kris really keep up her pretend love of books and poets when she goes out with Rock? Of course, nothing is easy in high school relationships – does Rock maybe like Sarah a little, too?

Romantic misunderstandings test the bonds of friendship in this fun and funny retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac, as seen from the feminine point of view. (One of 5,000 books recommended on

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ten Miles Past Normal, by Frances O'Roark Dowell (fiction) - goats, guitars, determination

You've gotta feel for Janie - her first year at a small town high school and already labeled as ignorable. And since her mom sometimes blogs about Janie's personal life, she's doubly doomed...

But learning about the "citizenship school" that existed near her North Carolina town in the 1950s during the Civil Rights movement and the brave people who taught African-Americans to read and write so they could register to vote helps Janie find her voice in the here and now.

Book info: Ten Miles Past Normal / by Frances O'Roark Dowell. Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), 2011. [author's website] [author interview] [publisher website]

Recommendation: Janie loved the idea of moving to a farm when she was 10, but in high school it’s not so cool. Goat manure on her shoe, hay stuck in her hair that awful first week of school – now the kids call her “Farm Girl” and treat her like she’s invisible. Except Sarah, the only friend from their junior high who came to this high school; they only have one class together… so it’s lunchtime in the library, every day, alone.

When a cute guy invites them to play and sing with Jam Band, Janie is amazed to find that she’s a natural on bass guitar. Monster (that’s really his name on his birth certificate – crazy parents) teaches her to play, and she just feels the energy grow.

Researching their women’s studies project introduces them to real heroines in their North Carolina town, women who taught black adults to read and write so they could register to vote in the 1950s, despite threats from the KKK. As Janie and Sarah interview Mrs. Brown and the late Mrs. Pritchard’s husband, they decide that the old farmhouse site of the “Citizenship School” should be preserved as a museum.

Will Jam Band ever make real music? Does Monster like Janie (you know, “like” like)? Can she survive her craft-clueless mom’s blog about farm life that veers a little too often into Janie’s personal life? And Mom’s plan for a hootenanny at the farm for her 15th birthday? Yikes! (One of 5,000 books recommended on (advance reader edition courtesy of the publisher through; cover image courtesy of the publisher)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stolen (fiction)

This book scares me on so many levels, and there's not a vampire or ghost or werewolf or war anywhere in it. How could Gemma's parents cope with her disappearance? I just can't imagine their terror and desperation.

May 25 is National Missing Children's Day - it's heartbreaking that this recognition even has to exist. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has resources so you can learn how to keep yourself and the children you know safe.

I've visited the Outback, so I know how far away from everything and everyone Gemma finds herself, out in the Red Center of Australia...

Book info: Stolen: A Letter to my Captor / by Lucy Christopher. Chicken House, 2010. 304 pages. [author's website] [publisher website] [book trailer]

Recommendation: He watched Gemma for years – at the park, in her room – then he stole her, drugged her coffee, and took her away from her parents at the Bangkok airport. Now she’s in a desert, miles and miles from any town, continents away from her London high school, alone with him. Ty says that he’ll keep her there with him…forever.

What makes a man plan so intently, stockpiling food and supplies to last a decade, building a house in the depths of the Outback? How can get on the very same plane as Gemma or get a fake passport for her or smuggle her through airport security?

Will she be with Ty forever? How long will he leave her body to herself? Will she ever see her parents again? Under a sky filled with more stars than the cities can ever see, on the flatness of an empty land, Gemma’s questions fill her journal, going on and on like the red sands of the desert, as far as she can see…
(one of 5,000 books recommended on

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My 5 favorite places to write...about

Today's WordCount Blogathon theme is "My 5 favorite places to write." And here I am, hands flying across my computer keyboard. But I really don't do my writing at my desk at all. That's just where I rearrange the phrases and paragraphs that I've mulled over and polished and discarded and remade as I'm out walking in the mornings, crafting my book recommendations so that they're just right.

And I find that the books I recommend often come from certain places that resonate repeatedly with YA readers. So here are my five favorite YA lit places to write about (with some BooksYALove recent and upcoming featured titles):

1) The future: Whether it's the just-around-the-corner days of Awaken (5/23/11 post) and Trickster's Girl (5/7/11 post) or the rocket-ship-in-the-driveway far-future of Ender's Game (5/19/11 post) and Across the Universe (5/4/11 post), "speculative fiction" can be the ultimate in escapist literature.

2) Fantasy: but no rehashes, please! If the cover blurb is overrun with difficult character names or boy wizards or disparate friends on a quest for an obscure object, then it'll get passed over. YA fantasy readers want real story in an unreal place (Green Angel and Green Witch), real feelings and questions in possibly unreal beings, like Kristin Cashore's Fire who is a beautiful monster, and Lenah, a 500-year-old vampire who longs to be human again to end her Infinite Days.

3) Around the corner: realistic fiction that could be happening over on the next block (Zen & Xander Undone 5/8/11 post), where young people and families face difficult questions (Dancing Through the Snow 5/17/11 post), have to live through unfair situations (Blindsided 5/9/11 post), or just put up with everyday life together (Ten Miles Beyond Normal posting on 5/26/11).

4) A long time ago: historical fiction that explores life in another era, especially if young adults are featured, as in Julie Chibbaro's Deadly typhoid epidemic and Celia Rees' The Fool's Girl set in Shakespeare's day. Warriors in the Crossfire (5/3/11 post) and Heart of a Samurai are amazing, heartstopping.

5) Far away, in another land: fiction that brings us into another culture as an outsider sees it (Mamba Point) or as residents live it (Saraswati's Way 5/15/11 post), books that give us perspectives on teens' lives to inform our own, sometimes humorously (Sequins, Secrets & Silver Linings 5/12/11 post) and sometimes as a matter of life and death (This Thing Called the Future). my walks aren't just strolls around the neighborhood; they're writes and rewrites to invite readers to fascinating places through outstanding YA books.
See y'all later - it's time for my walk!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Awaken, Katie Kacvinsky (fiction) - online school, fake trees, real danger

Plastic trees, pre-fab food, every social and business interaction online only - sounds a little tempting when you're caught in traffic on the way to school or trapped in yet another blah-blah-blah lecture course.

But if every minute of school occurs online, the only people you see day in and day out are family members, the only birdsong you ever heard was historic digital audio, the only way you know your thoughts are your own is... well, you couldn't be sure of that, could you?

A prediction? A cautionary tale? Welcome to a future where DigitalSchool shapes young human minds while all other living things become obsolete...

Book info: Awaken / by Katie Kacvinsky. Houghton Mifflin, 2011. [author's website] [fan-created book trailer] [publisher website]

Recommendation: School is completely online in 2060, so Maddie rarely sees anyone in person, except her mom and dad. Why does this Justin guy want to meet her at a face-to-face Tutor session? She could just see him online 24/7, like her other friends all over the world. Anyway, her dad grounded her till age 18 after she went into his DigitalSchool computer two years ago.

Her parents say that Justin is dangerous, that his parents were terrorists, that he’s only trying to see 17-year-old Maddie because of her dad’s DigitalSchool business. But Justin actually speaks to her like a thinking human being, showing her the real Portland with pastries instead of nutri-bars and live musicians instead of soundfiles online.

It seems that not everyone is happy with DigitalSchool. Justin wants her to sneak more information from her dad’s computer so they can crash that system and give kids the chance to get outside, away from computer-simulated beach views and back to the real sand and sea, away from thousands of online friends they’ve never seen and back to interacting with real friends.

During a dangerous DS student “rescue” with Justin, Maddie has to decide whether she’ll abide by her dad’s authoritarian rules or risk losing her place in 2060’s society. Can she trust Justin? Could she really live where trees aren’t plastic and sunsets aren’t on a computer screen? Is there something malicious in DigitalSchool, something bad enough for Maddie to risk life in prison?

A glimpse of a potential future where keeping the peace may be more dangerous to humanity than allowing conflicting ideas… (One of 5,000 books recommended on (advance reader edition courtesy of the publisher through

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I Love Him to Pieces (fiction)

Romance, baseball, zombies... a typical high school day, right? This is such a great comic! Its subtitles - "My Date is a Dead Weight, or He Only Loves Me For my Brains" - hint at the tone of the whole book - really funny, a little creepy, a touch slapstick.

The writer and artist together have crafted a very plausible way for the "mutated Cordyceps fungus" to infect people and, uh, dissolve their brains. And it doesn't take long for the "zombie fungus" to do its work... Hey, the CDC just released Emergency Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse on 5/16/11 - life imitates art?!

Tsang's writing is humorous and serious in all the right places, while Gorrissen's drawings make every character distinctive and real - both cartoonish and lifelike at the same time (except thoroughly dead, in the zombies' cases).

Dicey is a hoot, playing baseball on the varsity team and giving the guys back what they dish out, while Jack is super-brainy, getting totally flustered when Dicey agrees to a date = you can just see him blush, even though the whole book is in black and white.

I was excited to see that I Love Him to Pieces was nominated for YALSA's 2012 "Great Graphic Novels for Teens" list. So nice that they confirmed my enthusiasm!

Book info: I Love Him to Pieces (My Boyfriend is a Monster #1) / by Evonne Tsang; art by Janina Gorrissen. Graphic Universe/Lerner, 2011. [author interview] [artist's website] [series site] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Who knew that being “egg parents” together for a school project would lead to making a stand against the undead on a senior skip day?

The “zombie fungus” should never have reached Florida. But suddenly varsity baseball star Dicey and her super-scientific boyfriend Jack are in the middle of it, as zombies begin to take over their city.

Are Jack’s researcher parents safe in Mexico, at the meteorite crash site where the fungus was first discovered? Are Dicey’s dad and little brother safe across the bay? What about their fantasy-gaming friends and the baseball team at St. Petersburg High School? Just one bite from a zombie, and it’s all over…

Somehow, the stunningly detailed art in black and white makes the zombies scarier than a blood-and-guts palette would - fantastic! First in the graphic novel series “My Boyfriend is a Monster,” each book featuring a different writer/artist pairup and a different variety of monstrous boyfriend. (one of 5,000 books recommended on (review copy courtesy of the publisher through