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Archive for the ‘Book Awards’ Category

There are some books that are so hard to describe and I’ll Give You the SunIllGiveYouThesun by Jandy Nelson (the 2015 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature) is one of them. So the best thing for me to do is keep my description very brief, lest I ruin the book for you. Jude and Noah are twins. At the beginning of the book, at age 13, they are as close as twins can be, knowing how the other feels, thinking what the other thinks without verbally communicating.

Noah is a geek with few friends. He draws constantly, both in his mind and on paper. Jude is beautiful and popular, and as most teenagers will, she rebels against her mother by wearing short dresses and lots of make-up. She too has artistic talent.

Jude sees the ghost of her paternal grandmother, Grandma Sweetwine, on occasion (as did her mother).  Grandma Sweetwine compiled a ‘bible’ of home remedies, superstitions and more, such as “A person in possession of a four leaf clover is able to thwart all sinister influences.” Jude believes these remedies and carries onions around for good luck or sucks lemons to dampen love.

But things change very quickly.

There are so many things that make this book special, the least of which is that Noah’s story starts at age 13 and Jude’s starts at age 16. Each of the characters have such distinct personalities. They are each hiding something major that will have a huge impact on other family members. Some of the characters seem larger than life. Noah talks in colors. Jude talks in home remedies. Grandma Sweetwine floats around in flowery dresses.

Nelson’s use of language, especially when describing what Noah sees and feels is unique. Her plot is unusual. Her characters are vivid. While I found the beginning a little slow going, by page 50 or so I didn’t want to put it down. So, if you’re looking for a book like no other that you’ve read, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson will be that book.

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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is the 2014 BrownGirlDreamingwinner of the National Book Award for Young Adult literature. In this novel in free verse, Ms. Woodson takes us on a tour of her childhood in Greenville, SC and Brooklyn, NY. In the same soft voice with which she speaks, she tells of her loving family in South Carolina, her grandfather Gunnar who acted more as her father, her Jehovah’s Witness grandmother, her brothers and sister and her dreams.

In both South Carolina and Brooklyn, the former a recently desegregated Southern state and the latter a theoretically liberal minded Northern borough, she felt the impact of racism. In South Carolina, Blacks still went to the back of the bus to avoid conflict. There were stores that Blacks didn’t enter because they were ignored or because they were segregated prior to desegregation. In Brooklyn, there were streets Blacks didn’t cross because they took them into the white neighborhoods.

Ms. Woodson talks about her feelings of inadequacy when compared with her older sister who was considered gifted. She talks about wanting to be a writer, but reading initially didn’t come easy to her. And, as the 1960s ended and the 1970s began, a young Ms. Woodson was caught up in the idea of “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and the ideals of the Black Panthers.

Brown Girl Dreaming is eloquent. Her life and emotions, such as being sad when the Woodson children had to go in earlier in the evening than other children in the neighborhood, come to life. There are vivid images of both South Carolina and Brooklyn, the contrasting surroundings, soft cool green grass vs. hard, sharp concrete sidewalks, the sweet smell of rain vs. the non-smell of rain. Through it all, it is the bond of family that shines.

Many times I’m not in agreement with the judges of book awards, but Jacqueline Woodson, author of such Young Adult classics (or just classics) as If You Come Softly, Miracle’s Boys, Hush, and Locomotion, is a worthy recipient of the National Book Award Prize. Readers of all ages will get lost in the story telling of her books.

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MoonAndMoreWith the weather outside ranging between 60 and 80 degrees, rainy (torrential) one day, breezy sunny the next, the question arises: What to read? Of course, weather does play a role in your reading desires.

If you were handed two vastly different books at the same time, would you choose the ultimate RoseUnderFirebeach read, The Moon and More, by Sarah Dessen or a more literary, cerebral Rose Under Fire by award winner, Elizabeth Wein? Rose Under Fire is a companion book to Code Name Verity which won the 2013 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult mystery, is a 2013 Michael L. Printz Honor Book and a 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Fiction Honor Book. Hard choice!CodeNameVerity

Now that you’ve considered the subject for your own reading pleasure, can you guess which I’m reading first? Hint: it is in the mid 60s, cloudy and rainy out. This probably doesn’t help much, I know.

Whichever you decide to read first, make sure you read the other one second. Enjoy.

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OneAndOnlyIvanIvan is a gorilla at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. His domain is a cage with a tire swing, a pool of dirty water and a wall painted to resemble a jungle with a waterfall. His main friends are Stella, an elephant and Bob, a dog who likes to sleep on Ivan’s stomach.

Ivan recounts his life in this unique book, The One and Only Ivan, the Newbery Award winner by Katherine Applegate. Ivan’s life is a sad one, his parents killed, losing his twin sister, Tag, en route from Africa, and being confined to a cage after losing his baby gorilla attractiveness.

Stella’s life is no better with her leg tied to a spike on the floor of her cage, limiting her mobility. Their only true human friend is Julie, the young daughter of the mall’s janitor, George. Through Applegate’s imagination, Ivan and Julie have one thing in common, they’re both artists.

Based on the true story of a gorilla named Ivan (known as the Shopping Mall Gorilla) who spent 3 decades in a solitary cage, never seeing another gorilla, Applegate ably brings to light the desolation of being separated from your own species and living in a bland environment. She describes but doesn’t dwell on the atrocities that man manages to enact against animals.

I will tell you that I could visualize Ivan and Stella and Bob and Julie. I could see their living conditions. I could feel their pain, their longing to go home. It takes quite a talent to do that.

I won’t tell you the ending, although you could find out quite easily without reading The One and Only Ivan–Ms. Applegate gives you a short bio of Ivan in the back of her book. However, that would be sheer silliness because the book is addicting. And I assure you, you’ll like the ending. Plus I love the opening quote: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” by George Eliot. It is true for Ivan and for us.

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Are you in the mood for just the right amount of magic and puppetry and suspense and thievery? SplendorsAndGloomsIf that’s the case, then you’re in the mood for Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz, whose previous book, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village was a Newbery Award winner. Splendors and Gloooms is no slouch either, being a 2013 Newbery Honor Book.

Since I’m having trouble these days describing books, I’ll take the description off of the Association for Library Services to Children website: “Lizzie Rose, Parsefall and Clara are caught in the clutches of a wicked puppeteer and a powerful witch in this deliciously dark and complex tale set in Dickensian England, where adventure and suspense are interwoven into nuanced explorations of good versus evil.” It is deliciously dark and scary. You can feel the London fog wherever Lizzie Rose and Parsefall travel.

Parsefall is the perfect Dickensian ragamuffin and Lizzie Rose is his prim and proper, although poor, partner in crime, both dominated by greasy, master puppeteer Grisini–a perfect name for him. When these three perform at Clara’s twelfth birthday party and she  disappears soon thereafter, the plot thickens. How the bigger than life Cassandra, the powerful witch in her remote castle, enters into the story is for readers to find out. Even Ruby the spaniel is adorable.

Readers will feel like they are living through an 1860s London winter.They’ll certainly feel like they are part of the story, not merely reading it. They might find themselves shouting out loud, “No Parsefall, don’t do that!” or “Watch out. Grisini’s hiding there!” Even I was afraid of Grisini.

My daughter recommended this book to me, before it was voted an honor book, indicating her good taste in books. For some reason, Splendors and Glooms, to me, was a middle school version of Night Circus because they had that same foggy aura (although their subjects are somewhat different).

So, my 2013 has started off with a bang. I’ve finished Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool and now Splendors and Glooms. Next up is Courage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone which is getting great reviews and The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver which has gotten great reviews. And then coming down the pike soon is Beth Kephart’s Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent, a prequel to Dangerous Neighbors. I know, also, that Susan Campbel Bartoletti’s new book, Down the Rabbit Hole: The Diary of Pringle Rose, is due out in March.  If my reading keeps up at this pace, 2013 is going to be a banner year.

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CodeNameVerityAs many of you know, I’m not a big Awards person. I’ve seen too many great books go unnoticed and too many mediocre books get nominated. And so it is this year as well with the YA Edgar nominations. Until finishing my current book, I had read two of them…both Edgar-worthy: Amelia Ann is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfeld and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.amelia anne

However, my third read was not in this league. It is by a well known adult mystery author, whose books I’ve never read but I love the TV series based on her books (except for the last season which got a bit weird). However, her foray into YA literature, in my opinion, produced a ho-hum, overly long, hint of telepath non-mystery, with a totally anti-climactic ending. Particularly annoying, I found, was her use of “c’n” when a character wanted to say the word “can”. I don’t know how they speak on the west coast, but here in the east we CAN say the word “CAN” in its entirety. So, I wonder how books are nominated or make it into the final 5, or were they just paying homage to a known writer, because in this particular case, one isn’t like the others.

So, rather than dwell on the negative, I’ll say based on my reading of part of the nominee list, if Code Name Verity or Amelia Ann wins, they truly deserve it. I heartily suggest you read them both.

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Wow! I can’t believe I never posted this. So, even though it’s out of date, here it is.

I know the controversy between the nominations of Chime and Shine has died down, but it’s taken me until now to read Shine. So, here are my final comments (maybe).

Someone I know said something to the effect that Chime is loved by the critics and not too many others. Unfortunately I agree.  It’s very literary and I was able to get through about 50 pages before I put it down.  It’s not that I hated it, it’s that so many other books were calling to me that I just lost interest.  That’s not to disparage Franny Billingsley…please don’t get me wrong.  Chime just wasn’t my book.

So, instead I thought I’d compare Shine by Lauren Myracle to It’s Our Prom (So Deal With It) by Julie Anne Peters.  Why not compare two sides of the spectrum?

Shine takes place in the South. Patrick does not hide his sexual orientation and when he is found outside the Come ‘n Go convenience store, beaten up and with a gasoline nozzle in his mouth, the theory is he is a victim of a hate crime.  Cat, his one time best friend, decides she must find out who did this to Patrick and the book follows her on her quest. We meet Beef, Tommy, Dupree and Bailee-Ann, kids Cat’s grown up with and known forever.

As Cat searches for the perpetrator, the reader learns why she withdrew from all her friends.  We find all the inner secrets of the people around her, adults and teens.  Myracle paints a not so pretty picture of the South, of the backwoods towns, the poor economic conditions, the use of drugs as an escape mechanism, the intolerance of people because they are different.

Rather than being a book about homosexuality, Shine is really a book about self discovery, confronting your past, learning who you are.  The vehicle Myracle uses is a hate crime, although it could easily have been a robbery, a death in the family, a divorce or a myriad of other life events.  Lauren Myracle outshown herself (pun intended) in Shine. If you like reading well written books, books that make a point, books that hold your interest, Shine should fit the bill.  Apparently not for the National Book Award judges, but for you and me plain folk, it’ll do just fine.

In the Colorado town in which Azure, Luke and Radhika live, in It’s Our Prom (So Deal With It), sexual orientation is not an issue.  And, yeah, while Luke may get razzed by his brother, Owen’s, friends for being bisexual, and yeah, they may not like him for it, there is little to none of that outright hatred that permeates the southern town in which Patrick and Cat live in Shine.  And that’s the difference. It’s Our Prom emphasizes inclusiveness.

Azure is asked by her school principal to become a Prom Com member and work to make the prom more inclusive; of straights, gays, geeks, nerds, loners, cliques and non-cliques.  The fact that Azure and Luke both want to ask Radhika to the prom is just part of the romantic triangle.  The fact that Azure’s former girlfriend reappears and pulls at some forgotten heartstrings is what happens to every teenager.  The fact that Luke has a crush on both Connor and Radhika is no different than a million other teens whose hearts are pulled in many directions. 

The result is a fun read about a group of teens whose goal to make a prom to remember is thwarted by parents, teachers, idealism and naïveté. Some of the crushes are obvious to the reader while unknown to the recipient. Peters has a way of creating characters that you want as your friends and Azure, Luke and Radhika fall into this category.  These kids go through the same things that every teenager goes through:  uncertainty about the future, parental pressure, school work overload. This is the kind of world I’d like to live in.  Life is hard enough without castigating someone because of who they love.  Read It’s Our Prom (So Deal With It).

So, in conclusion, both Lauren Myracle and Julie Anne Peters have authored excellent books that use the GLBTQ theme as a backdrop for something more. That’s what I like about the books and the authors.  There’s something more.

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