Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Few Good Books

When I was a child, my parents were afraid that I would begin to think of the book store as the library because I would spend so much time there. They put a quick limit on that amount of money that they were willing to spend on books for very good reason, and I was lucky to grow up with one of the best mid-western libraries. My father would take me there almost every Saturday to get whatever books I wanted. I can still remember where I was standing the first time I read the first page of Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game (single greatest book ever written for teenagers) and how I tore through the rest of her body of work in the following weeks. When I was old enough, my parents let me ride my bike several blocks (and across busy streets - the horror!) to the local branch where I'm pretty sure that I was on a first name basis with the librarian. Over time, my reliance on libraries has waned for a variety of reasons. We moved. The new library pretty much sucked. I moved. The new library was associated with college (but the local library was awesome for the Girls when they were little). We moved. No clue where the library was. We moved again. I don't think they had a library. We moved one more time. Library isn't bad but lacks new releases, basic knitting books, popular cook books, and I may have a small(ish) fine outstanding. Because of all those factors, I tend to buy the books I want these days. I read a pretty wide variety of genres, but I always fall back on non-fiction, chick lit (sue me . . . don't care), and young adult literature.

Young Adult literature, or YA if you are in education or a bookstore, has gotten a bad rap lately. Critics say: It's too dark; The themes are too mature; Children are victimized; It will ruin our children; Where are the parents? Truth be told, they are kind of right . . . it is dark . . . mature . . . lacking parents. But you know what? It was like that when I was 14, too. Kids at school would pass around books they knew their friends would want to read (Flowers In the Attic, anyone?) partially because they had access to them and their friends probably didn't. I can say with all certainty that had my mother known I was reading a book about siblings who decided to not only have sex with each other but have children with each other, she would have burned it in front of me. But she didn't know a thing about it . . . because I got it from a friend. Did is mess me up? Absolutely not. Could I have lived without having read it? Absolutely.

I truly love this little piece of technology

So . . . why do I still read YA at the tender age of 41? Because I teach seventh grade, and I like to know what my students are reading. For a while, I read it because my children were reading it, and I liked to know what they are reading. That ended with the Twilight saga basically because it was horrible, and I wasted four days reading the crap. Now, I take my cues from what my students are reading and what I can glean on Goodreads. I take advice from other teachers, friends, or family. And I still choose books by their cover. Sadly, my children don't take my advice that often. Guess I had a bad habit of trying to push certain books on them in which the plucky heroine overcomes all odds to lead a successful life. If you're looking for a good, quick, fun read, it's quite possible you might find any of these interesting.

The Hunger Games trilogy - I like a lot of series books, but I hate when a book leads you into a series. For example, I just finished Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, which was good . . . but it sets you up completely for another book (and the first one wasn't strong enough to do that, in my opinion). The Hunger Games, while completely leading you into the second book, stands by itself. The story telling is top-notch, and the plot moves forward at a rapid pace. I started this book on audio two years ago but got side-tracked. That being said, when I picked up the paper version in June, I was astounded to realized I was only four chapters in. Suzanne Collins never insults the reader by telling you about the story. She does what every good writer does and allows you to imagine, in great detail, what is happening to the two protagonists. I won't give away any spoilers but suffice it to say, after three books (with two readings of each), I could easily go back and reread the series again.

Beauty Queens - This was a pure and simple impulse purchase. I wanted to load up my nook with books on our recent vacation and figured that I had enough "my boyfriend is a supernatural spirit killer/developer/nurturer and I'm a misunderstood faerie/Goth chick/potential CEO" to last me a good portion of the trip, and I wanted something goofy and fun and light. Boy did I ever get it! Supposedly, the story idea was tossed out at editors' meetings (A plane full of beauty queens crash lands on a desert island), but Libba Bray made it something real. She weaves the stories of the different teen beauty queens throughout the novel, and you can't help but identifying a little with some of them. Even the bumpers from "the Corporation" make you sit up a little and think, "Is this what we are funneling into our girls?"

Just read the books . . . before the movies come out

The Mortal Instruments series - Bought the first book in Las Vegas because of the cover. Google The City of Bones and get back to me. I'll wait . . . waiting . . . waiting. OK . . . see? How could I pass cover up. The writing hooked me within the first 50 pages, and I was praising it to everyone I could. Last October, when I was in Columbus for the Flickr meet-up, a friend of Erika's brought up Flowers in the Attic and asked if kids still read them. "No . . . incestuous relationships with borderline objectionable love scenes aren't really in favor any more," I said over my beer. Fast forward one day, on a plane, and I'm eating my words (relax . . . just read the books). I practically ran to a book store at Newark Liberty International to find the second book so I could continue reading it. At work, I told anyone I could think of about it (honestly, I should have gotten a cut of the profits from our school - or at least a free book). When I saw student reading it, I immediately sat her down for a long discussion about the series. Cassandra Clare recently released a few new snippets from her upcoming books . . . which can't get here fast enough as far as I am concerned. I've already preordered the next Clockwork book and can tell there is a big sneeze coming when it's released.

The Looking Glass Wars trilogy - Again, I have a problem with books in series. And to be fair, I didn't "read" these books but listened to them on the iPod. The premise? What if Alice's adventures in Wonderland were real? The protagonist is Alyss Hart, who after the murder of her mother by her sister, travels through a looking glass portal where she is raised by the Liddell family in England. Characters from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland make appearances (including the author himself) in slightly altered forms - the Mad Hatter is now Hatter M, a kick-ass guard who protects Alyss at all costs, the Caterpillar is still a Caterpillar, only there are four or five of him and he sounds vaguely like John Lennon (remember . . . listened, not read . . . I'm pretty sure that I would hug the voice-over artist thinking that he was author Frank Beddor). This is one of the rare books that I broke my "purchase the books in the same format you started with if there are more to follow" as I gleefully purchased a hard cover version of the final one so the Girls could finish the series.

You Wish or Prada and Prejudice -  I read Prada and Prejudice first because I can't pass up anything having to do with Jane Austen's masterpiece. It was the perfect blend of "what-if" and how lives are changed with simple choices. Buy a pair of Prada shoes you can't afford on a school trip to London, and you just might find yourself transported back in time to the Regency Period. I knew it was a good book when it promptly was stolen off of my book cart at school. You Wish truly had me laughing out loud as a girl finds all of her previous birthday wishes coming true over a succession of days. I shudder to think what I wished when I was 10; that walking up the stairs to my house would send me into a tailspin I'm sure. Both books are by Mandy Hubbard, and I can't wait to see what she does next.

Elsewhere - There are books that make you laugh. There are books that make you cry. And then there are books that make you do both. I alternated between giggles and tears pretty much the whole time I read Gabrielle Zevin's book about death and life and moving on. The protagonist dies before the book even begins and doesn't handle her own death very well. Seriously . . . who would? She's only 15 when she dies and feels cheated out of her life. However, she soon learns that even a life lived in reverse is one worth living. A warning: don't confuse it with the movie Elsewhere . . . not connected. 

So, there you go. Fifteen suggestions for books. One of these might be fore you. One of these might be for a young adult you know. If you have any good suggestions, let me know . . . I'm always on the look out for something new. School is just around the corner, after all!

- Jill

PS - I linked to author's pages where I could since I would hope you might read the books and not the summary of the novel instead. And who knew Frank Beddor has had such a colorful life!


  1. Thanks for the great suggestions!

  2. My mom, 9th grade teacher, just had a kid ask last semester if she could write her book report on the latest Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter book. Now I have read it, but I am 40! The answer is a summary NO!

  3. thanks!!! i actually needed some recommendations for myself! seriously!

  4. Jill, I totally loved Elsewhere. One of my favourite books. Will try the rest of your list, since I have plenty of time to do so.