Archive for the ‘Francisco X. Stork’ Category

Kirkus recently had an article entitled “How to Read Young Adult Novels and Still Hang Out with Adults” (the link is shown below) which, of course, prompted me to make my own list, because YA books are my passion and there are so many that are ‘suitable’ for adult readers. My only criteria for my short and not all inclusive list are (i) that the books are a few years old so that they might have slipped our minds, (ii) they aren’t the well known books, such as The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (which is a great book, by the way) which has been used in adult book discussion groups and (iii) they are well written.


So, here’s the Goldberg List (I’ve tried to satisfy varying tastes):

DisreputableHistoryDisreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart: For those looking for cerebral stimulation, follow Frankie Landau-Banks, as she tries to infiltrate the school’s decades old secret all-male society, the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, a society her father belonged to, back in the day.

EonDragoneyeRebornEon: Dragoneye Reborn (and its sequel Eona: The Last Dragoneye) by Alison Goodman: A flawless combination of Asian astrology, mythology, action and fantasy, these books are perfect for science fiction/fantasy fans and those readers who just want to get drawn into a magic world.

FreakShowFreak Show by James St. James:  Follow Billy Bloom, a teenage drag queen as he makes his way through his new conservative high school, Dwight D. Eisenhower Academy, and forges a relationship with the quarterback of the football team, in this hilariously funny as well as serious comedy/romance.

MarceloInTheRealWorldMarcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork: A realistic view of a high functioning Asperger’s teenager and his father’s push to have him acclimate to the ‘real world’. Absorbing and well written.

NothingButGhostsNothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart: Ms. Kephart is known for agonizing over every word, making some of her books have an ethereal aura to them. Nothing But Ghosts is a literary treat. As described in Kirkus, “A long-buried mystery weaves its way through this delicately layered portrait of a grief-stricken daughter and father that meditates on the nature of loss. A coming of age story with a mystery.”

RevolutionRevolution by Jennifer Donnelly: Historical fiction (also A Northern Light by Ms. Donnelly) combined with some time travel transports Andi Alpers from her 21st century Brooklyn home to the middle of the French Revolution. Wonderfully written and totally engrossing.

TamarTamar by Mal Peet: A story of passion, love and resistance fighters during World War II, this absorbing story rotates between two Tamars, one current day Tamar following clues to find out about her 1940s namesake.

WintergirlsWintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson: A haunting look at teenagers and eating disorders.

I could go on, but I won’t. I truly hope you’ll give these books a try.

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Francisco X. Stork does not shy away from issues. In Marcelo in the Real World he discusses Aspberger’s Syndrome.  Marcelo is torn between his desire to stay in his special school and his father’s demand that he experience and learn to function in the real world. As we’ll learn, this is a relatively tame issue for Stork.

In The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, he deals with a young man, Pancho, who is out to kill the man who he believes attacked and killed his ‘simple-minded’ younger sister. Sent to an orphanage after both his sister and his father die within a short time span, Pancho meets D.Q., who is battling a rare form of cancer. All D.Q. wants to do is survive long enough to finish writing his Death Warrior manifesto, which is about “loving life at all times and in all circumstances,” and to convince Pancho to embrace the Death Warrior philosophy.

In Irises, Stork tackles the death of one parent and the vegetative state of another parent. Sixteen year old Mary and eighteen year old Kate’s pastor father dies suddenly. Two years prior, he was driving with his wife, tried to beat the yellow light and didn’t make it. Catalina, his wife, is now a vegetable, living at home with a feeding tube, tended by her daughters. The pastor’s death obviously causes untold trauma and stress in the children’s lives. Living in El Paso, Kate has been accepted at Stanford University, pre-med, on a full scholarship. If she leaves, what is to become of Mary? If she stays, what is to become of her dreams? And is Catalina really living? Is her light still shining?

I thought Marcelo in the Real World was an excellent book and while I didn’t love The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, I gave Stork a lot of credit for dealing with the subject. Irises falls into the latter category. I like the characters. I understand the emotions. Having been involved in two “pulling the plug” decisions in my life, it is not something anyone wants to participate in. And so, I give Stork credit for portraying, in a realistic way, the emotions surrounding such decisions. Having said that, though, I just couldn’t get into the story. It didn’t grip me. I don’t know why.

Despite my feelings about Irises, you know that I am looking forward to Francisco X. Stork’s next book because, undoubtedly, it will be like no other. I suggest you read Irises, named after the Van Gogh painting that Mary is trying so hard to copy, because it tackles a subject not yet tackled in Young Adult literature.

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In Jennifer Roy’s Mindblind, 15 year old Nicholas has Aspberger’s Syndrome.  Whereas in Kathryn Erskine’s Mockingbird, Caitlin is 11 years old and her special interest is dictionaries, in Mindblind 15 year old Nicholas has an aptitude for mathematics.  (Although he doesn’t fit the formal definition of genius, of which he is obsessed, Nicholas comes darn close.) There is a huge maturation that occurs between 11/12 year olds and 15/16 year olds, so while in Mockingbird, Caitlin is trying to figure out what is socially acceptable and what isn’t, Nicholas has it pretty well sorted out.  Whether he acts on it or not seems to be a conscious decision on his part.

While in both books, the community at large is accepting of its ‘Aspies’, the big difference between the books is that Nicholas’ father can’t accept what Nicholas is.  Despite his aversion to crowds and loud noises, his father wants Nicholas to be a normal teenager and forces him to go to a party.  The fact that Nicholas has friends (whereas Caitlin was still working on that) and is relatively normal doesn’t satisfy his father.  You can imagine the results. 

As with Kathryn Erskine’s story, Roy reiterates that with early detection and intervention (in this case, from Nicholas’ mother), Nicholas is a ‘normal’ or in his words ‘neurotypical’ teen.  Roy, too, has created characters that readers can relate to, want to relate to, want to meet and get to know.  I’m glad I read Mockingbird first and Mindblind second because I can now imagine how Caitlin turns out and that adds a special element to the story.

The merits of both Roy’s and Erskine’s books are too numerous to mention.  The writing, the story, the characters all shine.  Bringing Asperger’s Syndrome to the forefront, as does Francisco X. Stork in Marcelo in the Real World (I just had to mention him again) does a tremendous service.  These three books form an Asperger’s Syndrome Triumvirate and should be on everyone’s reading list.  Educate yourself while giving yourself a treat and read Mockingbird, Mindblind and Marcelo in the Real World.  (I wonder if there’s any significance to the fact that the titles of these books begins with the letter “M”?

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Unbeknownst to me, I picked up two Young Adult books recently in which the main character has Asperger’s Syndrome: the National Book Award Winner Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine and Mindblind by Jennifer Roy, the award winning author of Yellow Star.  Since I’m in the middle of the latter book, I’ll talk about Mockingbird.  (By the way, I must mention Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, another marvelous book on the subject.)

Twleve year old Caitlin has to deal with the death of her mother from cancer two years earlier and the recent middle school shooting death of her older brother Devon.  It’s a lot to contend with even if you don’t have Asperger’s.  While her father understands her, he must deal with his grief, and is unable to translate that to Caitlin.  It was Devon who really understood her and explained the world to her.  While an element of Mindblind and Marcelo deals with a parent who doesn’t understand the idiosyncracies of his (it seems to be the plight of the father) older Asperger’s child, Erskine in her Author’s Note, explains the need to understand each human’s potential and limitations, and rather than dwelling on the conflict of misunderstanding, would rather dwell on the concept of understanding and early intervention.  And she does an excellent job of it.

Caitlin’s special nature comes through loud and clear; her drawing ability, her affinity for dictionaries and the meanings of words, the comfort she feels when she puts her head under the couch cushions to feel closer to those people who sat on it.  Erskine doesn’t downplay the socialization difficulties Asperger children have because of their unique nature.  What you come away with after reading Mockingbird is a real sense of who Caitlin is–she is a real person and you want to get to know her, to be her friend.  There is a love and warmth that emanates from Erskine’s writing…you get the feeling she really loves Caitlin, not an emotion you often get when reading a book.

I had picked up Mockingbird back in mid-September and put it down within a chapter.  I guess I wasn’t ready for the book.  This time, I read the book in one day; that’s how much I liked it.  Mockingbird is a book for all age groups.  It is beautifully written, tender and informative as well.  It is worthy of its award (not something I can say about every award winner).

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There are two universal truths when it comes to me and book awards:

1.  I have read very few books on the list and

2.  I disagree about the ones I have read.

And so it goes with the National Book Award nominees this year.  I have only read one book on the list and it is the YA book My Name is Not Easy.  And, of course, I don’t think it’s deserving of a nomination.

My inital thoughts, as jotted in my Librarything review were: 

“In her Author’s Note, Debby Edwardson describes the lack of schools near Alaska’s remote villages in the 1960s and the need to send even young children hundreds of miles away to school.  She also describes Project Chariot, a plan to create an Alaskan Harbor by detonating nuclear blasts, and the military’s Cold Weather Research using iodine-131 on Alaskan children and adults.  While My Name is Not Easy describes these deplorable incidents through the reminiscences of several children at Sacred Heart School, it does not do them justice.  Rather than concentrating on the high emotions these acts might have generated, the book is more a light hearted three year diary of Luke, Chickie, Donna, Amiq and several other students.  It merely touches on these issues and the antagonism between Alaskan Eskimos and Indians.”

I thought the characters were one-dimensional and the writing adequate.  I concluded by saying ” There is a more informative, absorbing story waiting to emerge regarding these historic events.”  I still believe that.

I will not deny that Edwardson has opened up a whole new world to me that I didn’t know existed, and if that’s the criteria for nominating a book, then so be it and I stand corrected.  However, when compared to last year’s winner, Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine (which I just finished–more on that in my next post), there is no comparison.  Erskine reinforced the world of Asperberger’s Syndrome to me, as I learned it from Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, and did it with wonderful writing, marvelous characters and a great story.

So, my record of having read few of the National Book Award nominations and my disagreeing with the decisions goes unscathed.

By the way, this obviously is my humble opinion and you are free to disagree–I actually encourage it.

Thanks for reading this.

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