Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Right to Read

It's that time of year again: the chance for avid readers are able to express their outrage at censorship in "the land of the free." I'm talking about Banned Book Week, people. For various reasons - religious or political agenda, explicit material, substance abuse, etc - libraries and schools have stripped their shelves of the most thought-provoking, realistic portrayals of life They hope to shield their young readers from thinking new thoughts (*gasp*!), thoughts that may change their life positively.

This week, we celebrate our freedoms. Freedom of speech and expression are part of the U.S. Constitution, and close-minded, loud-mouthed leaders cannot change that.

Personally, I am lucky to have a school library that embraces controversial topics. Yesterday when I walked in there, an entire display case was devoted to BBW. I've made a point to read the controversial books that my library has to offer, and every one of them has a worthwhile message.

Here's some books that have been censored. Have you read them? Have they scarred you for life or opened your eyes? I've read all of them, and each had a powerful message.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
  • Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Clause
  • Cut by Patricia McCormick
  • Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
  • Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
  • Glass by Ellen Hopkins is being challenged right now

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Welcome to the 74th annual Hunger Games! After North America was destroyed, after the small country of Panem rose from the ashes, after the districts tried to revolt but were put down by the capitol... the Hunger Games were constructed. They are to serve as a reminder of the Capitols complete control. Every year, two tributes from each district are selected to participate in a fight to the death. Every year, Katniss prays for safety for herself and her loved ones.

This year, Katniss is a tribute
She must survive on her instincts and her skills, outwitting the other twenty-three contenders as their fight is broadcast live across the country. But more importantly, Katniss must hold on to her humanity when she must kill to win.

I mentioned this book a couple weeks ago with the Buckeye Book Awards. There is no doubt that it belongs on that list. It isn't clear how far into the future the book is set, but Katniss's world isn't much different than ours. District Twelve is poverty-stricken, so we don't get a feel of the technology until we reach the Capitol, and even then they still have trains and televisions. In this setting, Collins has constructed a desperate society. The Games are not named only for the contestants who struggle to keep themselves fed as well as injuring their fellows. It is the hunger of the people, who may be entered in the pool extra times in exchange for much-needed food. It is the hunger of the Capitol to control their domain, oppressing its citizens and turning a blind eye to their plight.

I'm avoiding turning this into an essay, but there are countless factors at work here to create a terrifying post-apocalyptic world. These meticulous details are woven into a high-action plot and a fair amount of character development. I ran across some fragmenty sentences on occasion, but they were a minor annoyance that hardly stopped me from reading.

The Hunger Games is a phenomenal book, and I'm hoping the sequel lives up to expectations!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Don't Judge a Girl by her Cover by Ally Carter

Going to support your best friend while her father is nominated as a candidate in the presidential election isn't usually what show up on What I Did This Summer essays. Neither is a kidnapping attempt by highly trained, unidentified agents - unless, of course, you are a Gallagher Girl.

If you are a Gallagher Girl, it is perfectly normal for your teachers to stage an attack in the middle of your vacation to see if you've been practicing evasion tactics; it fits in with the curriculum of fourteen languages and covert operations.

But this is not a planned attack, and Cammie Morgan goes into her junior year of Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women (aka spy school) with the unshakable worry that her school is no longer safe. As she and her friends look for answers, Cammie must use all of her skills to keep her friends safe.

The third installment of Cammie's exploits, Don't Judge doesn't disappoint. As always, Cammie throws herself into her mission with both seriousness and humor. I love her voice, which dismisses the unusual teachings of her school as if it were standard high school procedure.

There's more at stake than grades. I'm talking real danger for our favorite spies. Plus, for the first time, the mystery doesn't end with the last page. Let's cheer on the writing of GG4!

The cool, often-updated website: http://www.allycarter.com

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Interview with Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance

It's a tactic the best generals couldn't predict: making the move from school newspaper to the cheerleading squad! Bethany isn't quite certain how it happened herself. So how is she supposed to be prepared to become one of the most visible girls at school - and in such a short skirt?

Geek Girl is a fun read, but it also questions the "natural order," as Todd likes to call it. Why can't you be a nerd and a jock at the same time? And what is it about pom-poms that makes girls popular? What about her super-hot new boyfriend; would he like her if she was still her invisible self? Abandoned by the Geek Squad, scorned by the Cheer Squad, Bethany is forced to wonder these things as she struggles through cheer season.

Charity Tahmaseb and Darcy Vance have created an engaging story about defying the norm, doing an excellent job of keeping it light while weaving in serious undertones.
Charity and Darcy kindly consented to answer a few questions for me, so let me present my first author interview!

Even the popular kids have their own issues beneath the surface. Where did you draw so many emotional backgrounds from?

C: We’ve either known someone like the characters in the story, or we’ve been where they’ve been. I know people are surprised to hear that I spent six years on active duty in the Army, but I did. I pull a lot of my “guy knowledge” from that experience.

D: And I pull a lot of my dork knowledge from, well, being a dork. But seriously, you're right. Even the popular kids have issues -- sometimes even more of them than the less popular kids do. There is a lot of pressure at the top of the social strata. Kids there have to hang on really tight and be aware of every move they make because there are so many people who would like to take their place. I didn't know that when I was in high school, but it is a lot easier to see as an adult who works with teen volunteers. Nobody gets out of school unscathed.

Bethany often missed her deadlines for her column in the newspaper. How do you deal with writing deadlines and (more importantly) procrastination?

C: I don’t know if Bethany missed her deadlines so much or if it was a case of Todd being Draconian (or more likely, a bit of both). I work as a technical writer for a software company, so my days are filled with deadlines--which are often moving targets. Right now, while we have projects in the works, we don’t have anything under contract. On the upside, the work won’t feel rushed and we’ll have ample time to revise. Downside? Oy. We could maybe use just a teensy bit of rushing to finish up a few things.

D: I am an expert at procrastination. When I do have a deadline to meet, I usually have to treat myself like a three year old child -- remove all distractions and promise a cookie when it's done.

Do you have any other books in the works?

C: We’re both working on various things, together and on our own. I have a solo project I’m revising. We both want to continue to work together, and have a couple of projects in the works.

D: A couple of those projects that Charity mentions are geek girl type stories. They're coming along s-l-o-w-l-y, but they are a lot of fun to write. Charity's solo project is a little more serious -- a really wonderful story that I can't wait to get a chance to read again when she's done revising. I've started a wacky non-fiction project for middle graders that I am hoping to entice Charity into working on with me.

Did you consider yourself a geek in high school?

C: Very much so. The premise for Geek Girl’s Guide came from an experience I had in high school. I was never the cheerleading type, but a friend convinced me to try out. And yes, we both made the squad. Sadly, my life was far less interesting than Bethany’s. The rest of the story is purely fictional.

D: I was (and still am) a geek at heart. I had friends from a lot of groups though and really, they weren't all that different from each other underneath the interests and social status that kept them separated. All of us are always just looking for someone else to connect with.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Ever since she was attacked by wolves as a child, Grace has been fascinated with them. There is one wolf in particular who appears in the woods behind her house, watching her watching him. In the winter months, he is always there, company in her lonely existence.

Even when the animal takes over, Sam cannot forget the girl. She is the reason he holds on to his humanity, the light of his existence.

When unforeseen circumstances finally bring human Sam to Grace's door, they become part of a comfortingly familiar story of love, even as Stiefvater molds it into something never before known.

I wrote several notes after finishing Shiver: it was haunting, especially as a subtle metaphor for death rose to the surface. Switching from POVs was effective, because each had a strong voice and cliffhangers kept me racing through. The werewolves are unique among all the paranormal fiction out there right now - the change is controlled by the temperature.

All of those are reasons why it's an amazing book, but none are exactly why I loved it. It's been a long time since I was drawn so deeply into a book on the first read, but I can't tell you the precise formula for success. Stiefvater's writing is thoughtful and sensitive, and the story of this pair is heart-warming and -wrenching at the same time. But what is my final, concise response?


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Buckeye Book Awards

If you live in Ohio, now's a great oppertunity to recognize some awesome books! The Buckeye Book Awards are here, and the books were nominated by teens across Ohio.

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

  • City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

  • Dance With a Vampire (Vampire Kisses #4) by Ellen Schreiber

  • Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix

  • Repossessed by A.M. Jenkins

The voting runs from September 1 to November 10, so you have plenty of time to go read all of the nominees and decide the best for yourself! Click here to vote.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Social Vibe: Support Peta2

Blogger has this new feature called "Social Vibe." Basically, it gives US the chance to make a difference. How? In the sidebar is a widget that links to a sponsor vid. When you click on the link and watch the vid, the sponsor will donate to the charity of my choice - in this case, Peta2. If you really care about the cause, go add the widget to your own blog!

Peta2 is the youth offbranch of PETA, aka People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. They work to raise awareness of animal rights - learn more at their website

So, start clicking, and lets see if we can make a difference

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Blood Promise by Richelle Mead

The fourth installment of Vampire Academy is finally here! I swear I have an amazing excuse as to why it took me so long to get the review out: I didn't get the book until this week. Why? It is possible to buy a signed, personalized book through Richelle Mead's website! If you are moderately patient, this is an extraordinary opportunity. If not, you should check out the website and the Official VA Website for cool extras.

Dimitri is a Strigoi, no longer the man Rose loved. Yet she can't help but love him still, and she remembers the promise she made to him as a dhampir. Now she scours Siberia, his homeland, with the intent to find and kill.

In Russia, Rose finds not Dimitri, but his family. Finally, we get a glimpse into Dimitri's origins, and it throws Rose's "blood whore" assumptions out the window. While Dimitri's mother watches out for her, Rose is finally able to work through some of her emotions, which I felt was important to her character.

At the same time, on the other side of the world, Lissa is having her own troubles. Rebellious and angry, there is more tearing her up here than just the disappearance of her friend. The transitions between the Rose and Lissa plots went well, especially since we still got Rose's opinions on the situation. Between the shadow-kiss connection and Adrian's dream-walking, there was plenty screen time for old characters even though they were on another continent.

I don't want to delve too far into the book for the sake of spoilers, but rest assured, it is a juicy addition to the VA series. Fangirls, prepare to squeal.