Saturday, July 28, 2012

No Safety in Numbers – Dayna Lorentz
The idea of being locked in a mall sounds like a dream come true to me – nothing to do for days on end but try on clothes and shoes? Sign me up! Wait…what? Thousands of other people will be trapped there with me? And there’s a deadly contagion possibly on the loose? Boo…hiss…much less fun, that.
No Safety in Numbers’ tagline is ‘150 stores. 1 Bomb’ - and we’re not talking a bomb that goes ‘boom!’ but a bomb that’s released a biotoxin through the air vents of one of New York’s biggest malls. The story is told from the viewpoints of four teenagers trapped inside the place: Lexi, the nerdy fourteen-year-old senator’s daughter whose mom orders the mall quarantine; Shay, the beautiful but studious teen spending the day there with her grandmother and younger sister; Ryan, the football player who meets and falls for Shay; and Marco, a busboy at one of the mall restaurants who’s bullied at school but finds himself in a position of power during the mall lockdown since he knows the floor plan…and possible escape routes.
When Marco first arrives for his shift at the Grill ‘n’ Shake, he assumes getting jumped in the parking garage by two football thugs from his high school will be the worst of his troubles. Hiding from his tormentors in the mall’s HVAC room, though, he notices a beeping black box attached to the circulation vents, and makes a 911 call that changes not only his life, but the lives of everyone inside the Shops at Stonecliff Mall that afternoon. When word quickly reaches Lexi’s mom, a state senator spending the afternoon at the mall with her husband and Lexi, the senator orders the mall be placed on immediate lockdown. At first, people are told there is no risk, it’s just a security measure, but then one afternoon turns into overnight and…
Most of the characters are pretty laid back about the whole thing at first – after all, there are a lot worse things than wiling away the hours in an Apple computer store. Unsurprisingly, most of the teens hang out in Abercrombie, and even participate in some fun games of truth or dare. It’s when people start getting sick, and one day turns into two and then three days, that people finally get restless and want to know what the deal is. Why can’t anyone leave? Why have all the cell phones dropped signals? What happened to news from the outside world being shown over the store televisions or internet? And what’s up with the arrival of all the peeps in the blue hazmat suits? As panic sets in and sick people start mysteriously disappearing, Lexi learns from her mom there maaaaaaay have been some toxins released through the vents causing a deadly strain of the flu to set in – something no retail therapy in the world can cure!
The first in a series, the book ends with a character death, a foiled escape, and the realization things may be far worse than originally imagined. Lorentz has an ear for how teens talk, and even though the plot is a bit far-fetched – not the biological toxin released in a mall part, which seems like a true terrorist plot-in-the-making – but that it takes the mall’s inhabitants several days to get worked up enough to start rioting. My three-year-old riots after just two hours in a mall!! Action/adventure fans and reluctant readers should enjoy. Soon, I hope to read Quarantine by Lex Thomas which has a similar premise – high school kids struck with a deadly virus and locked inside their school – but is supposed to be edgier and more Lord of the Flies-ish with warring gangs and violence.
To learn more about Dayna Lorentz, the No Safety in Numbers series, and her other books, visit http://www.daynalorentz.com/ .

Friday, July 27, 2012

YallFest 2012 Poster

A poster/flyer I created for my library advertising YallFest in Charleston, SC this November - I plan to take a group of students to the fest for the day. Feel free to use!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Burn for Burn – Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian
Who of us hasn’t harbored some kind of revenge fantasy? Whether it’s a mean girl, a teacher, an ex, a coworker or boss, when you’ve been wronged by someone, human nature demands some sort of recourse. If you’re passive like me, you quietly stew in a corner while cartoon bubbles filled with cool revenge scenarios involving public nudity, sudden balding, and/or some form of pyrotechnics form over your head…
In Burn for Burn, Kat, Lillia and Mary get the opportunity to act out their revenge fantasies. Each has an ax to grind with someone from their high school. Rebel girl Kat spent the summer hooking up with football player Alex, but since school’s started back, he’s seemingly moved on with Lillia’s younger sister, Nadia…which also angers rich girl Lillia. Her sister is only a freshman and doesn’t need a senior like Alex soiling her innocence. Worse, Lillia’s bff Rennie supposedly knows all about Nadia and Alex and has done nothing to stop it! But then, head cheerleader Rennie only looks out for herself – always has – and Lillia is getting sick of always playing second fiddle to her friend. Then there’s Rennie’s object of lust – football captain, Reeve. Basically the male version of Rennie, Reeve dominates the football field and halls of Jar Island High. Years ago, he also made life a living hell for shy, quiet Mary when, in middle school, he nicknamed her Big Easy in reference to her *ahem* larger size and made her the object of several public humiliations.
That Kat, Lillia and Mary don’t hang at school is what helps their plan to exact revenge on their objects of ire so perfect. No one would suspect those three to be in cahoots! A chance meeting in the school bathroom – which is the hotbed of ALL school plots, really – brings them together, and after comparing hate notes, they realize they might really be able to pull off plans to get back at Alex, Rennie and Reeve. As you can probably guess, things don’t go quiiiiiite as they expect, because things and people aren’t always what they seem. Also, one of the girls might sorta kinda have supernatural powers. The authors save the big twist and series set-up for the Homecoming Dance at the end.
My girls are HUGE fans of Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty series and Vivian’s Not That Kind of Girl and recent release, The List - a summer favorite of mine. With Burn for Burn, author besties Han and Vivian have paired up for a new trilogy that should satisfy both their readers and fans of girl drama series such as Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars and Lisi Harrison’s The Alphas  and The Clique. Burn for Burn is scheduled for a September release, which will give my students plenty of time to read it before our field trip to meet Han, Vivian and 42 other awesome Y.A. authors at this fall’s YallFest in Charleston. We’re beyond excited…and it’s still 3 months away!
To learn more about Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian, you can visit their websites at http://www.dearjennyhan.com/ and http://www.siobhanvivian.com/Hello/Home.html .

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Beneath a Meth Moon – Jacqueline Woodson
I’ve never watched an entire episode of A&E’s ‘Intervention.’ The one time I watched part of an episode, the featured addict was a young girl in her early twenties addicted to crack cocaine. As she sat in a circle with her loved ones, family members or friends broke down as they begged her to quit doing crack and reclaim her life – and the girl either laughed at or, worse, belittled them. I get that’s a defense mechanism on her part, but still…it was just too painful to watch, so I switched stations. Sadly, several friends of mine have either suffered or are still suffering through similar situations as they watch a loved one sacrifice his/her life to drugs. No matter how much you love and will an addict to change, it’s ultimately their choice and their choice only – and some never make it.

In Jacqueline Woodson’s heart-wrenching Beneath a Meth Moon, fifteen-year-old Laurel Daneau is in the grips of an addiction to meth – or the moon, as she calls it. Goodness knows she has reason to have turned to drugs, since the poor thing lost her mother and grandmother to a flood in Mississsippi. Laurel, her father and baby brother, Jesse Jr., had evacuated their port town when authorities warned about the impending threat of flooding, but her grandmother didn’t want to leave behind her home. Laurel’s mom offered to stay behind with her, and the two promised to go to the nearby WalMart should the situation get serious. Well, even mighty WalMart couldn’t fight the flooding once it hit and, like that, Mother Nature took away the two most important mothers in Laurel’s life.
Laurel and her remaining family settle in another Mississippi town, and Laurel makes quick friends with a cheerleader named Kaylee. Kaylee encourages Laurel to try out for cheerleading, and not only does she make the squad, but she catches the eye of the co-captain of the basketball team, T-Boom – annnnnd, that’s who introduces Laurel to the devil dust. Enamored of T-Boom and still reeling from the loss of her mother and grandmother, when T-Boom pulls out a little plastic bag full of a white powder and gets her to take a sniff – that’s literally all it takes. One sniff and Laurel is hooked on the euphoric feeling the moon brings – no insecurities about her relationship with T-Boom, no sadness over her family’s loss, just rainbows and sunshine and good times as long as her high lasts. But as with all drugs, the highs never last and before long, you can end up sacrificing your life and all those that you love to chase those highs.
Within that one school year, Laurel goes from a being beautiful, blonde, honor roll cheerleader to a skin-and-bones, yellowed teeth, scraggily haired, scab-covered, meth head living on the streets begging for change for her next high. Her father didn’t want her to leave home, but her constant lying and stealing to support her drug habit, and the risk she posed to her little brother forces his hand – get help or get out. Laurel gets out. On the street, she meets another kid, Moses, who knows a little about the moon himself – at age five, he lost his mother to meth, so he now paints murals around town of other young people who have lost their lives to drugs, their smiling faces both a comfort and a curse to the families who lost them too soon. Moses warns Laurel she will be next if she doesn’t stop and get help.
If you’ve read any of Woodson’s other books (Miracle’s Boys and After Tupac and D Foster, to name a few), then you know Woodson doesn’t go for big dramatic scenes – it’s the small, subtle snatches of conversations and memories that tell her characters’ stories. She doesn’t even tell Laurel’s descent into drug hell in a linear fashion; instead, we jump around from her talks with Moses about the people in the murals he paints, to recollections of her childhood spent talking with her grandmother about her love for writing, to scenes of Laurel escaping out of rehab to go to the nearest drug den for ‘just one more’ hit of the moon. Undoubtedly, the saddest passages are the ones of her daddy wishing ‘to get his little girl back’ and her brother wondering what’s happened to his sister. Keep some Kleenex handy!
Jacqueline Woodson is a prolific writer who has written young adult, middle grade, and picture books – and her website it bang-up! There, you’ll find lots of information about all her books along with teacher or book club guides, if interested. You can visit her website at http://www.jacquelinewoodson.com/index.shtml .

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Shhh-ing Librarian

Wanted to share a picture of my latest tattoo - the shhh-ing librarian. I love what she represents - the complete opposite of how I operate my library! Growing up, my high school librarian was infamous for repeatedly yelling 'Shut up!' at top volume, officially making her the LOUDEST person in an otherwise too-quiet place. Then I worked with a librarian who greeted students with 'Where's your pass? Why are you here? No Googling, now go back to class;' needless to say, with that icy greeting we seldom had any students in the library...just tumbleweed blowing across the place. Sigh.

Once I got out on my own and had the chance to set my own tone, the shhh-ing librarian was no more! I do my best to welcome students with a smile and a 'How can I help you?'...and guess what? Even if they're not actually there to work, I'll let them stay and socialize if they're not seriously interrupting others trying to work. It's okay for the library to be a cool hang-out. In fact, it's better than okay - it's AWESOME. When students see it that way, they're much more likely to come to me for academic assistance or a book rec when they really need it. Some of the most animated conversations that have gone on in my library have been between me and students about books - the hottest male character in Y.A. lit being one of the most hotly debated topics (for the record, Augustus from The Fault in Our Stars just edged out Cricket from Lola and the Boy Next Door and Patch from the Hush, Hush series).

The shhh-ing librarian had her day, but in the era of engaged student learning and the library as a learning commons, let's put her quietly to rest - right there on my arm.
For Darkness Shows the Stars – Diana Peterfreund
Imagine a future that looks a lot like…the 1800s. No technology or any modern conveniences; no commercial stores or shopping because people are back to growing their own food and making their own clothes; slavery is back in vogue because you need workers to do all this manual labor; and the class system is back in full effect since the world is made up of two kinds of people – the haves and have-nots. Kinda hard to wrap your head around, eh? Well, in Diana Peterfreund’s For Darkness Shows the Stars she manages to pull all this off while reworking Jane Austen’s last completed novel, Persuasion, as a dystopian love story.
 So how did we manage to destroy ourselves to the point that we went back to the old way of doing things?! Seems as modern science advanced and more and more people took advantage of genetic procedures that would enhance them as humans, a bad virus known as ERV struck these people which rendered them dead or at best mentally deficient (ie. dumb) and in need of care. Enter the Luddites, the people who from the very beginning trusted they were created in God’s image and took no part in any of these scientific experiments with our DNA. In fact, they hid in caves during the worst of the virus outbreak. When they eventually emerged and found much of the world wiped out and the rest “Reduced” (the word for what happened to those people who used science to tamper with God’s creation), they stepped in to do their Godly duty and care for the Reduced – by outlawing the technology that got them into this predicament and having the Reduced do all the work on their estates. Now that several generations have passed, though, there emerges another group of people known as Children of the Reduced – CoRs – who have intelligence but are still considered second-class citizens because they’re born of the Reduced. Some of these CoRs prefer to be known as Posts – as in Post-Reduced – and dream of a life beyond serving the Luddites. A life that once again embraces science and the good it can do if only their social standing didn’t hold them back.
Elliot North is an eighteen-year-old Luddite who lives with her widowed father and older sister, Tatiana, on the North’s estate. Due to her father and sister’s extravagant ways, their estate is struggling and Elliot spends much of her time working alongside the estate’s Posts and Reduced to keep things running and somewhat profitable. She feels deeply responsible for all of their workers. When a letter arrives from an Admiral Nicodemus Innovation, requesting to use part of the North property to build a special ship that could sail and find if life on any other lands exists out there, Elliot quickly convinces her father to accept. Her family desperately needs the money Innovation is offering, and Elliot is intrigued because she’s heard that Innovation’s crews were responsible for discovering a breed of horse on a nearby island that is exceptionally strong and fast as well as chickens that produce twice as many eggs. As much as it goes against her Luddite upbringing, Elliot can’t help but believe science and invention can do some good after all.
When Admiral Innovation and his Cloud Fleet of workers arrive, though, Elliot comes face-to-face with a ghost from her past – Captain Malakai Wentworth, whom she affectionately knew as Kai, her first and only love. Elliot and Kai grew up together on her father’s estate, since Kai and his father worked for the Norths. The two shared a fascination for the world and its scientific advancements before the Reduction, something they read a lot about in the books Elliot would sneak from her father’s library. As a CoR, though, Kai was considered beneath Elliot so they were forced to communicate mostly through written letters until, at age 14, something happened that caused Elliot to reject Kai and her feelings for him. Gutted by Elliot’s rebuff and determined to make a better life for himself, Kai ran away and joined with some other Posts living on the fringe of society. There, he met the Admiral Innovation and his wife, Felicia, and went through a transformation that changed the direction of his life…and possibly his chance of ever reconciling with Elliot.
Obviously, Elliot and Kai’s tormented relationship is the centerpiece of the book.  The course of their love affair is charted through the letters they begin writing each other at age six, until their big confrontation and falling out over how much one’s birthright and responsibilities ultimately matter if two people truly care for each other and want to be together. When Kai returns, his and Elliot’s feeling for each other are still there, but so are the same burdens of class, ambition, and how much science is too much science that drove them apart. The interest Kai shows in a nearby estate girl, who though also a Luddite doesn’t seem bothered by his Post status, only deepens Elliot’s longing to break free of old traditions and be with him herself. Unfortunately, Elliot carries the burden of maintaining her family’s property so she can provide for all the Reduced and Posts who depend on her family – but as Kai challenges her, what if they want more for themselves than to work till death on her land? Should a person be reduced to being either a manual laborer or a property owner by birth only? And what of science? Is it all bad? If there are technologies out there that can make life easier for people, why not take advantage of those tools? Peterfreund deftly addresses these issues of class and science not only in regards to Kai and Elliot’s relationship, but also in how the Luddites sincerely believe they are doing God's work by adhering to traditional ways and providing a home and work for society's weaker citizens, essentially modern day slaves.
As with all Jane Austen novels, you don’t just sit and read the book – you allow yourself to become a part of its world, a world which places a lot of emphasis on class and tradition. That Peterfreund can pull that off in this modern take is quite a feat. Peterfreund has also written a prequel for For Darkness Shows the Stars called Among the Nameless Stars, which is about what happened to Kai during the time he ran away from the North’s estate. You can read it for free on her website at http://www.dianapeterfreund.com/  . Peterfreund will also be one of the authors at this year's YallFest in Charleston, SC.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic – Allan Wolf

Fifteen years ago, the movie “Titanic” came out and became one of the biggest grossing films of all-time – something crazy like $2 BILLION dollars worldwide – and it did so well because people went to see it over and over and over again. This past spring, the movie was re-released in 3D for its 15th anniversary and, again, raked in the big bucks. I was pleasantly surprised by how many of my students went to see it. Even though they’d grown up watching it numerous times for free on tv, this was their chance to see Rose, Jack and the ship on the big screen. I’ve only seen it like *cough* forty times myself, so I totally get the appeal – I still tear up when Rose vows to Jack, “I’ll never let go, Jack. I’ll never let go,” just as I always gasp at the sight of that big boat, post-berg, turning up on one end and creaking for just a second before disappearing into the sea with all those people.

There’s just something (sick?) about disasters such as Titanic that we find endlessly fascinating - which is why Wolf’s The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic is such compelling reading…even though we all know how it ends. So why another Titanic tale? In his author’s note, Wolf shares:

…my aim in writing The Watch That Ends the Night was not to present history. My aim was to present humanity. The people represented in this book lived and breathed and loved. They were as real as you and me. They could have been any one of us. And that is why, after a century, the Titanic still fascinates.

Exactly. The voices Wolf uses to re-tell the story of Titanic in his book are mostly those of passengers who truly existed – E.J. Smith, the Captain; Bruce Ismay, the businessman who helped fund the ship; Thomas Andrews, the shipbuilder; John Jacob Astor, at that time, one of the wealthiest men in America and the world; Margaret Brown, the spitfire known as the ‘Unsinkable Molly Brown’; Jock Hume, the second violin for the boat’s orchestra; Charles Joughin, a Baker in the kitchen; Frankie Goldsmith, a young boy aboard with his parents and older brother; immigrants such as Olaus Abelseth, Jamila Nicola-Yarred, and her brother Elias; and the Undertaker, John Snow, whose grim responsibility it was to retrieve and identify the dead bodies from the sea. Wolf also gets creative and gives voice to a rat aboard the boat (“scuttle, scuttle, carry food, STOP DANGER!”) and most chillingly of all – literally! - the Iceberg, the story’s ‘villain’ whose poetic description of the lives it has the power to take truly does send chills down your spine…

Black ice; calm seas; no wind; a moonless sky.
Could Fate provide a better place to hide?
(See now how Fate is on the Iceberg’s side?)
Titanic will be, too – if all goes well.
Hear how her engines hum across the swells
See now her razor bow heave into view,
cleaving the sea’s smooth countenance in two.
I see her, too, but she does not see me.
The lookouts on her mast can’t make me out.
We’ve never been so close, my little fish.
Make haste, now. Hurry. Bring their hearts to me.
And do let’s get acquainted as you wish.
Shhh. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick…

Told as an oral history in free verse format, the reader quickly becomes attached to all of the characters as they share their histories and how they came to be passengers on the Titanic. Because the reader has the first few days of the voyage to get to know the characters, when the fateful night of April 15 arrives and the night watchmen finally catch sight of the iceberg, your heart pounds to read all that follows and who makes it – and who doesn’t. At the end of the story, Wolf includes Character Notes so we can see what became of those who did survive.

Even though the book looks thick, the free verse format makes it a quicker read than you would think – and you won’t want to put it down anyway once that iceberg strikes! What a great book to use as a tie-in between ELA and Social Studies classes too for its literary devices and history – holla atcha boy, Common Core. For peeps really into the Titanic, Wolf includes a pretty definitive list of Titanic books and histories along with websites he used while doing research for the book.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Trafficked – Kim Purcell

America is the land of the free, right? Not if you’re part of the human trafficking trade that exists here.

Just ask Hannah. In her home country of Moldova, Hannah is shattered by the loss of her parents in a terrorist bombing. Left with only her ailing grandmother, Hannah meets a travel agent who lures her with promises of a bright new future in America. A family in Los Angeles needs a nanny and is willing to pay $400 a week for her services in addition to providing food and a room for her to stay. Her best friend, Katya, worries this could all be a ruse – sometimes carrots like these are dangled to young girls who then find themselves overseas and trapped as sex slaves – but Hannah’s uncle believes she will be safe and encourages her to go. Hannah dreams of one day becoming a doctor, so the opportunity to go live in America, learn English and save money for university is too good of an opportunity for her to pass – besides, she can send some of her money home to help her Babulya get cataract surgery.

From the moment Hannah arrives in America, though, she knows she should’ve listened to Katya. Before boarding her international flight, the agent who obtained her false documents forces her to show her thanks by performing a sexual act on him. Further, he warns her that if she doesn’t do just as the family asks of her, she might be turned over to American authorities and jailed or, worse, passed off to someone else who may decide to use her for sexual purposes. After an intimidating interrogation at LAX, the customs officials at the airport eventually wave her through, though they seem to be aware she’s in America under false pretenses. Rattled and scared, she arrives at the home of the family she will be working for only to discover her job will be different than originally described.

Though the father of the household, Sergey, seems nice enough, his wife Lillian makes clear to Hannah that SHE is the head of household and Hannah will do her bidding. Hannah is to be up and have breakfast ready for everyone by 7 every morning; she is responsible for cleaning the entire house everyday; she is to tend to their two children, Maggie and Michael, and only speak in Russian to them, since it’s their native language and Lillian doesn’t want them to forget it; she is never to be alone with Sergey and when speaking to him, she is NOT to look him in the eye but instead stare at the floor; she is never to leave the house alone or make phone calls; and though they have a beautiful, spacious home with additional rooms, she is to sleep on a cot in the corner of their closed-in garage. Sounds like fun, huh? As if the drudgery of her job doesn’t sound bad enough, Hannah learns she won’t be paid since she ‘owes’ them $4,000 in fees they paid to bring her to America, and she won’t possibly have time to attend English classes or go to school since she has a full day working with them – basically 6am to 11pm.

With time, things only get worse for Hannah as Lillian - already insecure and threatened by her - grows more jealous and irrational. She even becomes physical a time or two and hits Hannah. On the flipside, Sergey shows her some compassion and, on occasion, will slip her some money, but his niceness comes with a price - unwelcomed sexual advances. Then there’s the family friend, Paavo, who offers to take Hannah off the Platanovs’ hands if she becomes too  difficult to manage– y’see, he has brothels that need girls like her. When Hannah is cleaning one day and discovers all her letters to home opened and stored in a draw by Lillian, who was supposed to have mailed them, Hannah realizes she must somehow find a way to escape. But what can a foreign girl with no contacts, no money and only broken English do?!

Hannah’s story will break your heart – especially, when you consider stories like this are real and happening right now here in America. Purcell’s portrayal of Hannah’s everyday life of servitude from sun-up to sundown both humbles and shames the reader at the everyday freedoms we take for granted. Moreover, Purcell touches on the harsh loneliness Hannah feels trapped with this family – she has no one at home to talk to and no one her own age in America to share simple conversation with, which is why she daydreams about the teenage boy who lives next door. In fact, the highlight of her entire day is hauling out the trash at 11pm on the off-chance she might say ‘hello’ to the boy as he takes out his family’s trash – his only chore. As tough a subject as Trafficked is, it’s a story that needs to be told and you won’t be able to put Hannah's story down.

To learn more about Purcell, you can visit her website at http://kimpurcell.com/home . As Purcell states in her ‘Author’s Note,’ twenty percent of sales from this book will go to help organizations that fight human trafficking.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

I Hunt Killers – Barry Lyga

People matter. People are real.
This is the mantra Jasper “Jazz” Francis Dent runs through his head whenever his darker urges get the best of him. A sentiment that completely goes  against what he’s been raised to believe by his dad, Billy Dent, who just-so-happens to be the notorious serial killer known as “The Artist,” “Green Jack,” “Gentle Killer,” and “Hand-in-Glove.” Daddy Dent has so many nicknames because he spent years switching up his M.O. to avoid getting caught by the police as he murdered no less than 123 people…possibly more. As soon as Jazz was old enough to talk, Dent began sharing his killings in great detail with his son – the who’s, the how’s and, with special delight, the why’s - the power of watching a human take his last breath before the light goes out in his eyes. This is all Jazz hears and knows until, at the age of 14, his father is finally caught and subsequently sentenced to life in prison. His arrest leaves Jazz in the custody of his ailing grandmother and alone to face the accusing stares of the people in his small town. Like father, like son…right?

Fast forward two years later when the body of a woman shows up in a field near town – three of her fingers cut off with only the middle finger left behind. Jazz can’t help but feel the mutilated hand is the work of a serial killer, and warns the police chief as much. After he’s politely but firmly told to ‘mind his own business,’ Jazz enlists his best and only friend, Howie, to help do some investigating of their own. After all, who better to profile a potential serial killer than someone like Jazz who studied for years under one of the best? When within days another body shows up and then another – all with missing fingers – the police are forced to acknowledge Jazz might be right. Worse, the pattern of the killings are quite familiar since they appear to be mimicking those of his father’s murders…in their order and style. As the bodies continue to pile up, can Jazz do what it takes to stop this new Impressionist killer…or will he be enticed to join him? A Hannibal Lecter-style visit to dear old dad in prison only heightens the suspense.

If you’re familiar with the book and Showtime series, Dexter, then you know Dexter Morgan is a serial killer who acts on his sociopathic impulses by sticking to a code where he only kills people who actually deserve it – murderers, rapists, and other hardened criminals. Like Dexter, Jazz struggles with the urge to act on what his father has taught him – the urge to kill. With the exception his girlfriend, Connie, and Howie, Jazz doesn’t feel emotionally attached to any humans, and sometimes when people make him angry – like, say, the social worker who believes his grandmother needs full-time medical care which would mean foster care for Jazz – he even imagines killing them…as in taking his fingers, wrapping them around the person’s neck, and watching as the life is slowly squeezed out of them.

This book is dark stuff, y’all. Lyga doesn’t spare the reader the cruelty of Dent’s killings, mostly women and even the family pet(!), and keeps you guessing as to which way Jazz might go. In fact, Jazz has a recurring nightmare about taking a knife and cutting through skin and bone with it himself, which he believes may be his brain’s way of burying a murder he’s already committed...possibly that of his own mother. In other words, put this in the hands of Stephen King, Dexter and/or murder mystery fans with strong stomachs and a taste for truly terrifying horror. I’m one of those freaks, so I dug it.

Like Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter series, I Hunt Killers has been snapped up by Warner Brothers to be made into a tv series. I can certainly see lots of plot possibilities. The book itself ends with a HUGE cliffhanger, and its sequel is projected to come out April 2013. To learn more about Lyga and his other books (Fanboy and Goth Girl, the Archvillian series) visit his website at http://barrylyga.com/ .

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life – Tara Altebrando

Reading Tara Altebrando’s The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life, I couldn’t help but think…aren’t we long overdue for another resurgence of teen movies? The 80s – the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of teen movies - gave us everything from  ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ to ‘Sixteen Candles’  to my blog’s namesake, ‘Heathers,’  and then ‘Clueless’ kicked off a new slew of teen movie love in the mid- to late 90s including ‘Never Been Kissed,’ ‘Can’t Hardly Wait,’ and ’10 Things I Hate About You.’ Were those not THE BEST?! If you’re not familiar, there’s always Netflix…just sayin’. Some of you may be thinking, “But what about the ‘Twilight’ series? And ‘Hunger Games’?” Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I’m thinking more along the lines of those old school movies that explored everyday high school life with its cliques, crushes, cool clothes, and ALWAYS killer soundtracks.

The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life certainly reads like one of those teen flicks. Every year during Oyster Point High School’s Senior Week, seniors have the opportunity to participate in an ‘unofficial’ (ie. parents and teachers don’t need to know about it) Scavenger Hunt. The winners of the previous year’s tournament make up the list of items, each worth various points, for teams of students to find – ie. bar of soap from a hotel (10), Ouija board (45), a piggy bank that’s not actually a piggy (50), play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ on a toy piano and email the video (75), any comic book featuring Superman and dated before 2000 (50), put your name in lights (150), a picture of everyone on your team skinny-dipping (200), etc. Because nearly every kid has a smartphone these days, there are bonus searches sent via text throughout the competition like finding and taking a bubble bath in a local water fountain (200). Grand prize? A four foot Yeti statue, $300 and, best of all, bragging rights!

For Mary, this competition means much more than fun and prizes. It means breaking out of her four years of being a supposed nobody at OPHS and finally making a name for herself – well, that and getting back at OPHS golden boy, Jake Bardone, the popular jock who’s made a high school career of working Mary’s nerves and harassing her gay bestie, Dez. Everything always seems to go Bardone’s way, including getting accepted into Mary’s dream college, Georgetown, which turned her down. Determined to win one for the underdogs of the world, Mary and Dez, along with their Harvard-bound nerd friend, Patrick, and laidback gal-pal, Winter, deem their team the ‘Also-Rans’ and hit the hunt hard!

While the hunt propels the story, the real action happens with the participants as they navigate their feelings for each other. Y’see, Patrick is secretly in love with Mary, who has spent the past two years of her life crushing on Carson, who’s on another team with his girlfriend, Jill. Only, unbeknownst to Mary, Carson is cheating on Jill with Mary’s bff and teammate, Winter. Got all that? And then there’s Dez, who’s been Bardone’s punching bag since Dez dressed up as Daphne from ‘Scooby Doo’ for Halloween when they were in kindergarten - not the kind of thing future jerks of the world forget, y’know? Things only escalate and get more awkward for them all as the day and the hunt goes on – which is what makes it such a fun read…and great premise for a movie!

What I personally like best about The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life is that while nothing overtly dramatic happens, the characters are as at-once obnoxious and self-involved yet likeable and funny as real teens. Mary’s stubborn and always wants things her way; Patrick’s clueless as to why girls don’t go for nerds like him (psst, Patrick, some of us do!); and Dez insightfully points out that his friends treat him more as a cause than a friend – they’ll stand up for him to brutes like Barbone, but then they don’t actually talk to him about everyday things like his own boy crushes.

This is Altebrando’s fourth Y.A. book, and one of her besties is Sara Zarr, the author of one of my favorite books from the past year, How to Save a Life. In fact, the two are now writing a book together called Roomies, which is set for a 2013 release. To learn more about Altebrando and her books, visit her website at http://www.taraaltebrando.com/ .

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Unbreak My Heart – Melissa Walker

Every girl should know Rule #1 of the Girl Code: Don’t EVER date your best friend’s crush, boyfriend or ex-boyfriend. Ever. Under any circumstances. These things never end well, and really, who should be more important in your life – your bestie or your lustie? Exactly.

Unfortunately, Unbreak My Heart’s Clementine skipped that page in the Girl Code Rule Book…or tore it out. Y’see, when the book opens, we find Clem in exile on a boat with her family for the summer. Her parents love sailing, especially taking six weeks off in the summer to do a circuit up the eastern coast. After the disastrous past few months of her life, Clem begrudgingly agrees to go with her parents and younger sister, Olive, on the trip to escape the mess she’s made of her life at home. It’s not like she has any friends left there anyway…

Friendship rewind. Amanda is Clem’s girl soulmate. They’ve been friends for forever, each family’s adopted daughter, and neither can imagine ever doing anything to hurt the other one’s feelings in any way…that is, until Amanda starts dating Ethan their sophomore year of high school. Like a good friend, Clem is genuinely happy that her BFF has found such a cool guy to have for a boyfriend, but as Clem and Ethan start to spend more time together through her friendship with Amanda, they also become drawn to each other. Clem and Ethan discover they share the same tastes in indie movies and music, and Clem even goes so far as to make a mix CD for Ethan. Girrrs, you know a mix CD is just a ‘Press Play’ away from a hookup. When Amanda discovers the unlabeled CD and quizzes Clem as to who the lucky guy is, Clem lies and realizes she’s driving down a dangerous road. Destination? Cheatersville. But does she stop and turn that car around? Oh no.

Over the course of her travels at sea, we get to know Clem and the story behind her break-up with her best friend. Walker does an excellent job, without being preachy, of exploring the fracturing of a friendship between two girls when one convinces herself it’s okay to go for her own happiness over that of her friend’s…because isn’t that how these things get started? What’s more, no one is harder on Clem in the aftermath of the break-up of the friendship than Clem herself. Losing her best friend is like a death to her. As hard as her family tries, they can’t seem to cheer her. Even the cute redhead she meets at sea named James, who’s doing the same sailing route but with his dad, does his best to charm her with Mitch Hedburg jokes and Elliott Smith songs, but seemingly to no avail until Clem can learn to forgive herself and seek forgiveness from her friend.

This kind of drama goes on ALL THE TIME with girls, which is what makes it such an awesome read – especially for girls who have been hurt by their supposed best friends OR girls who were the ones who did the hurting. In addition to five other Y.A. books, Walker has written articles for both Seventeen and ELLEgirl magazines, so chick knows her girl dramaz. To learn more about Walker and her other books, visit http://www.melissacwalker.com/ .

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone – Kat Rosenfield

Earlier this year, John Corley Whaley’s Where Things Come Back won both the William C. Morris debut book award and the Michael Printz Award for Excellence in Y.A. Literature. Not too shabby for a first time novelist, eh? Part of what made the book stand out was the way Whaley told two seemingly different stories – one involving the disappearance of a fifteen year old boy, the other the suicide of a once God-fearing college student who’s lost his faith - that later intersect into a ‘oh, wow’ climax. In Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone, Rosenfield pulls off a similar feat…only, I think, better.

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone starts off with a bang – well, actually, it starts with two recent high school graduates banging in the back of a pick-up truck. No sooner are they finished, the sweat still on Becca’s body, when James informs Becca, ‘By the way, we’re done. Over.’ Oooo, burn. That same night across town, a college-age girl is bludgeoned and left for dead by the side of an old country road. Her body isn’t discovered until the next morning when a local townsperson comes up on her dead form, actually driving over and crushing a few of her fingers. As you can now see…this isn’t light reading, kiddos.

As in Where Things Come Back, AAiDaG takes place in a small town, and as Rosenfield writes, “In a small town, murder is three-dimensional…[Amelia’s death] blew alongside the flecks of bloodstained dirt, down Country Road 128, and reached town as a howling gale. The chatter was fevered. Frenzied. People came home from the grocery store, from bridge club, from a walk in the park, and massaged jaw joints that were exhausted from gossiping. They stood over fences and talked about the dead girl, the girl with no name, no face, no identification. “

The thing is, this dead girl has a name for the reader – Amelia. After first meeting her in death, Rosenfield takes us back to meet Amelia as she’s finishing her last semester of college. It’s during that last term that she takes part in a school stage production and discovers she really likes acting – even the director agrees, she has true talent. Her boyfriend, Luke, finds it all silly that she would seriously consider abandoning her business degree to try and pursue a career in acting. Besides, he already has plans for them – plans for them to marry and settle down.

Meanwhile, Rosenfield also lets us get to know the story of Becca and James and how they arrived at their messy breakup. The two first get together the summer before their junior year of high school. What starts out as a small hook-up, nothing serious, soon blossoms though Becca and James are on different paths. Most townies are happy enough to graduate, maybe go to the local community college, but for the most part people settle in town where they live out the rest of their days. Becca plans for more. She plans to go away to college, never come back…but then she falls for James. Poor James is dealing with tragedy of his own – the death of his mother to cancer, a death so crippling to him, that he drops out of school and almost out of life except for his ties to Becca. When he breaks up with Becca the night of Amelia’s murder, he thinks he is finally cutting ties with her.

The death of the strange girl quickly consumes the town and even Becca, who wants James back and reconsiders going away to college. But then facts about the girl’s death start to come out, and Becca starts to suspect someone close to her and James. Even James is acting all weirded about the girl’s death, like he might know something. As the accusations and finger-pointing in town start to fly, Rosenfield slowly reveals what really happened the night Amelia met death – and it’s as ugly, gruesome and sad as any death of a promising young person could be.

Rosenfield is an amazing writer who totally gets the nuances of life in a small town right. Morever, she knows how to build suspense to the point you’ll have to remind yourself to breathe. There’s another side story, about the death several years back of a young fifteen –year-old boy visiting town named Brendan, that tore me up about as bad as Amelia’s story. I could see where she was going with his impending death and found myself wanting to just skip to the next chapter to avoid reading such sadness. She is THAT good of a writer.

This book first came on my radar when author John Green (The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns) tweeted about its awesomeness. Obviously, the dark themes in this book mean it’s not for everyone. Also, while it is a young adult book, the high school librarian in me sees it more as an adult than young book. There are a couple of explicit (for Y.A.) sex scenes and rough language, but it befits the story. Just sayin’ – consider yourself informed.

Kat Rosenfield not only writes Y.A. books, but she also freelances for MTV’s Hollywood Crush blog. In other words, she’s got what would be one of my dream jobs. ;-)  You can learn more about Rosenfield and read her blogs both at http://hollywoodcrush.mtv.com/author/katrosenfield/  and http://katrosenfield.com/ .

Friday, July 6, 2012

Supergirl Mixtapes – Meagan Brothers
Waiting – Carol Lynch Williams

Sometimes we librarians read books that we know won’t have mass appeal but may be just the right book for just the right reader at a particular time. Meagan Brothers’ Supergirl Mixtapes and Carol Lynch Williams’ Waiting are two such books.

I was personally pumped for Supergirl Mixtapes because it’s set in the 90s, obviously has a music theme and involves a girl originally from South Carolina – the Gaffney peach even gets a shout-out! After some mysterious traumatic event, Maria Costello leaves her dad in the small town of Millville, SC to go live with her wild-child mom in New York City. Maria’s mom, an artist, left her and her dad several years back to move to NYC to pursue her art career…or so she intended. When Maria arrives, she finds her mom shacking up with a 22-year-old musician boyfriend, staying out all night at rock shows and clubs, and attending the occasional AA meeting. Not exactly what Maria was expecting. Worse, the kids at her new school are a bunch of stuck-up jerks who decide Maria’s the perfect punching bag, so she quickly starts skipping school every day to avoid the hassle. Maria’s escape is in the old school records her mother shares with her – Patti Smith, The Ramones, David Bowie – and the mixtapes her best friend Dory mails her from home – so-called ‘Supergirl Mixtapes’ because they feature the strong music babes of that era, like Sleater-Kinney, The Breeders, Liz Phair, Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, Courtney Love, REM, Nirvana and Jeff Buckley (hey, Michael Stipe, Kurt Cobain and Jeff Buckley were in touch with their feminine sides!).

Supergirl Mixtapes should be awesome, but…it’s just too manufactured angst-y for me. There’s a suicide attempt, drug overdose, mental breakdown…ugh, so very rock ‘n’ roll cliché. I do know at least two students who will like the book because of all the music references, but other than that, the story itself doesn’t offer anything new or unusual. Meh.

Lynch’s book The Chosen One, about a thirteen-year-old girl trapped in a polygamist cult, was one of my favorite reads from last year’s SCYABA list. Waiting is told in free verse, which makes for a quick read, and like The Chosen One – it will tear you up! London’s brother Zach kills himself at age sixteen, leaving his family devastated and destroyed. London’s dad is in total avoidance mode, while her mom is in total blame mode – and guess who catches most of the blame? Yep, London was the first one to get to Zach, so her mom dumps his death on her. As London walks in a daze through school and her home life, pushing away her old friends as well as potential new ones, Lynch gradually reveals what pushed Zach to the point that he would take his own life. The scene where she describes in minute detail exactly how Zach dies and London fails to save him is about as gut-wrenching a scene as I’ve ever read in a Y.A. lit. Lynch spares no horror, and your heart breaks for London and anyone who would have to witness a loved one die like that. While London eventually finds some measure of solace and acceptance, her family is far from healed. This is the kind of book you put in the hands of someone who has been through a tough loss themselves, and like Supergirl Mixtapes, I can think of one or two students who would be drawn to the story because of circumstances they’ve suffered in their own lives.

Cool factoid – both Meagan Brothers and Carol Lynch Williams are originally from South Carolina. Home state pride, boos!  You can read more about Brothers at http://us.macmillan.com/author/meaganbrothers  and Lynch at http://www.carollynchwilliams.com/ .

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Gilt (The Royal Circle #1) – Katherine Longshore

In British history, nobody brought the drama quite like the Tudors, and in all of history, no royal went through wives quite like Henry VIII. Many are familiar with wifey #2, Anne Boleyn, the ill-fated vixen and mother of future queen, Elizabeth I, but Henry later had another wife who met with the same headless end – that would be wifey #5, Catherine Howard. (As good a story as Anne Boleyn’s rise and fall was in season two of Showtime’s ‘The Tudors,’ season four featuring Catherine Howard’s story arc was the most haunting and my personal favorite.)

Gilt is told from the viewpoint of Catherine’s best friend, Kitty. The girls grow up as wards together in the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s house, where teenaged Cat acts as mistress of ceremonies entertaining the other girls and sneaking boys in for visits. Francis Dereham is one of the boys Cat takes special interest in – so much so that she brings him into the bed she shares with Kitty. Awwwkward for Kitty! The girls dream of escape, and nothing would be more glamorous than for them to one day serve in the royal court of the king. After some machinations on the part Cat’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, Cat gets her wish to go live at the court and serve as a lady-in-waiting for Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, but not before promising Kitty she will one day send for her to join her there.

Sure enough, once at court Cat works her feminine wiles on Henry - only thirty years her senior and no longer the svelte, hot ginge he was in years past. Cat makes the king feel young and desirable again, unlike the fuddy-dud he foolishly took as his fourth wife, so Henry quickly gets his marriage to Anne of Cleves annulled and takes Catherine as his *gulp* fifth wife. True to her word, Cat sends for Kitty and her other besties, Joan and Alice, to serve as her chamber maids.

Kitty always dreamed life in the royal court would be exciting; unfortunately, the kind of exciting Cat attracts is dangerous. A huge flirt, Cat takes up with the dashing Thomas Culpepper, who happens to be one of the king’s favorite courtiers and close associates, as he’s responsible for dressing the king. Kitty remembers Thomas from her days at the Duchess of Norfolk’s house, though, when she accidentally stumbled upon him raping a woman. Nice guy, eh? Worse, Cat keeps pushing one of Thomas’s closest friends, Edmund, on her. Edmund is a babe for sure, but he was with Thomas the day he raped the girl and did nothing to stop him...not that she did either, as Edmund pointedly reminds her when she confronts him on the matter. Kitty’s not even sure if Edmund really likes her…or likes the idea of the chase more. Then there’s the boy she really likes, William, who may only be a lowly secretary for the Duke of Norfolk, but sincerely seems to have Kitty’s best interests at heart. When word reaches the king that his young wife isn’t as virginal as she originally claimed and may even be an adulteress, a crime punishable by death, all hell breaks loose in the court as those closest to the king and queen scramble to get their stories straight and save their own necks.

You don’t have to be a history buff or fan of historical fiction to get caught up in this royal intrigue. The characters, including Kitty, are all based on actual people and events, and Longshore does her best to stay true to history with a few imaginative embellishments along the way. We know how things end for Catherine, but it’s Kitty who the reader ultimately sympathizes with and worries for her fate.

Longshore plans to write other novels centered around the court of Henry VIII, though not necessarily in sequential order. There’s certainly a goldmine of people and plotlines there to choose from! To learn more about the author and Gilt, visit Longshore’s website at http://katherinelongshore.com/ .

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The List – Siobhan Vivian
As is tradition at Mount Washington High School, the Monday before Homecoming every year “The List” is posted all over the school – but this list doesn’t have anything to do with homecoming court or the football team’s MVPs. Created by an anonymous entity, this list identifies both the prettiest and the ugliest girl in each grade level at MWHS. As if everyday high school life isn’t a struggle enough, for these eight girls, finding your name on “The List” means harsh public scrutiny AND lots of self-examination...

The Freshmen
Ugliest:  Danielle DeMarco (“Also known as “Dan the Man”) is enjoying her best school year ever – a new boyfriend she met at camp over summer and news that she’s made the Varsity Swim Team as a freshman - until “The List” changes Andrew’s behavior towards her, and she starts to feel shame about her athletic ability.
Prettiest:  Academically average Abby Warner (“Bonus points for overcoming family genetics”) has spent years in her smart sister Fern’s shadow, until “The List” puts her on the popularity radar…but at her sister’s expense.

The Sophomores
Ugliest – Candace Kincaid (“Beauty isn’t just skin-deep, btw”) has always been pretty and popular, until “The List” calls her out for her mean girl attitude, and her ‘supposed’ friends start to turn on her.
Prettiest – Lauren Finn (“Everyone’s hot for the new girl”) is enjoying her first year in public high school after years of being home-schooled by her single mom. While getting named ‘prettiest’ widens her new circle of friends, mommy’s not so sure she put her daughter in public education for this kind of drama…

The Juniors
Ugliest – Sarah Singer (“It’s like she’s trying to be as ugly as possible”) could give a rip what people think of her – well, except for her only friend and possible bf, Milo - but after making “The List,” Sarah decides to give the people what they want, writes ‘Ugly’ in black marker across her forehead, and refuses to the bathe or change clothes for the entire week leading up to Homecoming. If they want ugly, she’ll give ‘em UGLY!!
Prettiest - Bridget Honeycutt (“What a difference a summer can make”) is easily considered to be the prettiest and most perfect girl in the Junior class by guys and girls, but when she looks in the mirror she only sees the fat on her upper arms, excess skin on her thighs and the way her stomach pooches out.  Diets, cleanses, purges – if only she can keep this weight off until after the Homecoming Dance, she’ll go back to eating normal...something she’s been telling herself for months now.

The Seniors
Ugliest – Jennifer Brigges (“The only four-peat in Mount Washington history! Congrats, Jennifer!”) made “The List” as Ugliest for the first time her freshman year and has made it on every year since. This year, some popular senior girls finally take pity on her and attempt a make-over, including a drive to get her elected as Homecoming Queen. But can this transformation of a long-time awkward ugly duckling take?
Prettiest – Margo Gable (“All hail this year’s Homecoming Queen”) is secretly relieved to make “The List.” She was named ‘Prettiest’ her freshman year, her older sister Maureen was “Prettiest” last year, and everyone knows the girl who is named ‘Prettiest’ her senior year is a shoo-in for Homecoming Queen. Only the groundswell of support for Jennifer is growing and forcing her to come to terms with her own treatment of Jennifer, when Margo dropped her as her BFF after 8th grade year…

The List is totally addictive. If you’re like me, you’ll be reading late into the night to see how things work out for each girl…expect your jaw to drop when you find out who is behind this list! Vivian is no sell-out either  – don’t expect everyone to rise above, join hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ before speaking out on what an unjust and cruel tradition this is, because guess what – as unjust and cruel as it is, it’s soooooo very high school!! Seriously, this should be required reading for girls. I plan to make it a book club selection at my school and look forward to addressing the many issues about beauty and self-worth brought out in the book with other readers.

Siobhan Vivian is another author who will be at this November’s YallFest (yes, I will be tracking her down for an auto and some fangirl gushing!). You can learn more about her, The List, and her other fab books at http://www.siobhanvivian.com/Hello/Home.html .