Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top Ten!

Here are my top ten books of 2009:

1. The Young Inferno by John Agard
With the help of Aesop, a hoodied hero braves the circles of Hell to find his true love.

2. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Cassie and Lia were best friends who competed to see which of them could be the skinniest. But now that Cassie is dead how is Lia to compete with a ghost?

3. Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd ed. Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci
Every self-proclaimed geek will find at least one character with whom to identify in this collection of short stories about everything nerdy from Klingons to bookworms, baton-twirlers to LARPers.

4. All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
In this moving story told in verse, 12-year-old Matt Pin is a Vietnamese boy who was adopted by a white couple after the Vietnam War.

5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Even though Katniss and Peeta survived the The Hunger Games, their troubles with the capitol have just begun.

6. The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
When a fortuneteller tells Peter an elephant will lead him to his sister, he can't believe it. After all, his sister is supposed to be dead, and where would he get an elephant anyway? But then, an elephant appears...

7. Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland
In the tradition of Anne of Green Gables, and in the romantic spirit of Sense and Sensibility; this sweet novel tells the story of Polly, a 21st century girl who wishes she had been born earlier.

8. Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud
Halli Sveinnson is an unlikely hero in a land where heroes are revered.

9. Creature of the Night by Kate Thompson
The story of a modern troubled teen and the fading mythology of Ireland.

10. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
A steampunk WWI adventure where the conflict is between Clankers and Darwinists.

And my top ten of the decade:

2000 – The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci
Everyone at school has an "I beat up Chris Creed" story, so when the suicide note appears and he disappears, it looks like everyone is to blame. But if he is dead, where is his body?

2001 – Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty
This charming Australian epistolary novel follows the story of Elizabeth and her tumultuous best friend, Celia.

2002 – Lucy the Giant by Sherri L. Smith
Lucy leaves her violent home life behind and passes as an adult in order to obtain a job on a crabbing boat.

2003 – A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
Mattie has a summer job at a fancy hotel in the Adirondacks. When the drowned body of a young female guest is discovered, Mattie must decide whether or not to reveal the letters the woman gave to her and asked her to burn. Based on the real-life murder that inspired An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser.

2004 – How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Anorexic Daisy is shipped to England to live with her cousins in the hopes that a change of scenery will be good for her. While she is there, World War III begins. Suddenly Daisy is struggling for her life in a way she never expected.

2005 – Dark Sons by Nikki Grimes
This novel in free verse tells parallel stories of Ishmael from the Old Testament, and Sam, a modern-day teen whose father has married a younger white woman and has a new baby.

2006 – Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Death narrates this haunting novel about WWII and the Holocaust.

2007 – The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Alexie's first foray in the world of Young Adult literature gave us this semi-autobiographical account Arnold Spirit, a Spokane Indian who leaves the reservation for a better education.

2008 – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
In a future dystopian America, twelve districts are controlled by an all-powerful capitol. Each year two teens from each district are randomly chosen to participate in a televised fight to the death.

2009 – Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Looking forward to 2010!

Saturday, December 26, 2009


By Maggie Stiefvater

Ages 16-up

Six years ago, when the wolves came, Grace didn’t fight them. They pulled her off the tire swing and out into the snow, and they worried at her body and tore holes in her flesh. But they didn’t kill her — something made them stop. Since then Grace has been obsessed with the wolves, specifically one wolf: A male with yellow eyes. He comes to her in the winter, and she watches him. But Grace is practical — interested in numbers, order, and logical thought; so this irrational fixation is quite unlike her. Then a bleeding, naked young man appears on Grace’s porch. His name is Sam, and Grace feels drawn to him in a way she can’t explain — somehow she knows he is her yellow-eyed wolf. Werewolves are a little different than the stories would have us believe: Instead of shifting to their wolf shape when the moon is full, lycanthropes change to their animal form when the temperature drops. And a werewolf cannot shift back and forth from human to animal indefinitely — eventually there is only animal, nothing left of the person who once was. Somehow Sam knows that this will be his last summer as a human. Has Grace finally found the person her soul was seeking, only to have him ripped away from her?

Told in alternating chapters from Grace and Sam’s point of view, this supernatural love story is beautifully written. Certain sections of this lyrical, melancholy novel read like poetry:

    I was not a wolf, but I wasn’t Sam yet, either.

    I was a leaking womb bulging with the promise of conscious thoughts: the frozen woods far behind me, the girl on the tire swing, the sound of fingers on metal strings. The future and the past, both the same, snow and then summer and then snow again.

    A shattered spider’s web of many colors, cracked in ice, immeasurably sad.

    “Sam,” the girl said. “Sam.”

    She was past present future. I wanted to answer, but I was broken.

This well-written tale of star-crossed lovers will break your heart and leave you longing for more. Fortunately, the sequel, Linger, will be released in July 2010.

Caveats: Violence, premarital sex.

Possible discussion topics: Relationships, comparison of werewolves in mythology to modern depictions of werewolves, parental roles, poetry.

Some discussion questions to get you started:
    1. There are a few unexplained elements in this book: Sam has not been a wolf for as long as some of the older wolves, yet he is about to lose the ability to change into a human. Why does Olivia have a change of heart about the wolves? Why does Isabel want to help her brother? What happened to Shelby?

    How do you make sense of these questions?

    2. Grace loves math, logic, and order. Sam’s very existence is one of wild disorder. Why do you think they are attracted to one another? Is there any reason for it beyond “love at first sight?” Is this a relationship you think could last? Or is this just infatuation?

    3. This novel is written in a very poetic style. And Sam writes song lyrics and reads Rilke. In what way does the text of Shiver reflect or echo the words of Rilke? Where does the writing feel like a song?

    4. Sam’s parents tried to kill him; his surrogate wolf-father, Beck, behaves in a way that can be interpreted as manipulative; Grace’s parents are neglectful; the police are useless. Why are there no trustworthy adults in this book? Is the author trying to make a point? Does it simply enhance the sense of isolation of the main characters? Or is there another purpose for this?

If you liked this book you might enjoy: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause, Freaks: Alive, on the Inside by Annette Curtis Klause, Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Oh. My. Gods.

By Tera Lynn Childs

Ages 12-16

As if it weren’t bad enough that Phoebe’s usually sensible mother has decided to move to Greece to marry a man she’s only known for six days, she is dragging Phoebe along with her, forcing to leave her friends, her school, and her running coach behind. Phoebe is convinced her senior year will be miserable, and that the best she can do is stick it out until graduation and then head back to California for college. To make matters worse, Phoebe didn’t count on one very important detail: her new stepfather is a descendent of the gods. As in Greek gods. As in Poseidon, Zeus, Hera, Ares—those Greek gods. And he is the headmaster of a boarding school that was specifically created to educate those with godly blood. Now, not only is Phoebe the only new student, she is also the only student who is not related to a god, and that makes her mighty unpopular. Her new stepsister, Stella, hates her and on the day they meet she magically breaks Phoebe’s backpack and turns her dinner into slugs. How is a girl supposed to fit in a place where everyone can make things happen simply by pointing their finger? Not to mention the boy she is crushing on from her track team, Griffin, seems to absolutely despise her lack of magical blood. This school year will be much harder than Phoebe could have ever imagined.

Phoebe’s willingness to chase Griffin when he is so visibly derisive toward her is a little disturbing. Furthermore, her willingness to forgive him for his participation in a cruel bet that has her the brunt of a joke makes Phoebe more doormat than strong female character. Stella’s sudden turnaround is also a little fishy. It will be interesting to see in the sequel, Goddess Boot Camp, whether or not this is a real transformation.

This novel is a bit of a Harry Potter clone (a magical boarding school no one knows about, groups are determined by which god is your ancestor, and great prejudice against kakos or those without god blood), but fun nonetheless. Readers will figure out the “surprise” ending about forty pages in, but the book is still a decent choice for a mindless vacation read. Nothing terribly profound or meaningful in these pages, and the conflicts between the characters are resolved a little too easily, but the story is compelling enough to make it worthwhile.

Caveats: the main character chases after a boy who is quite cruel to her.

Possible discussion topics: relationships, Greek mythology

Some discussion questions to get you started:

    1. Griffin is really cruel to Phoebe. Why on earth does she chase him? Is this a good idea? What would you do in her place?

    2. Ancestors determine all of the cliques at the school on Serfopoula. If that were true, who would be your ancestor? (Aphrodite: love, lust, beauty; Artemis: hunting, wild things; Dionysus: parties/festivals; Hermes: flight, thieves, mischief,

    3. Troy is descended from Askilopus, the god of healing, but he doesn’t want to go into medicine, he wants to pursue his music. How much do you think genetics plays a role in who we become? How about destiny?

    4. Phoebe has to start her senior year at a new school, in a new country, and to top it all off everyone around her is descended from the gods. Talk about feeling like an outsider! When have you felt out of place? What did you do to solve that problem? Did you ever end up feeling like you fit in?

If you liked this you might like: Avalon High by Meg Cabot, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.