April Reading Round-up

And thus, with the passing of the month of April, so passes the end of the Reading Semester.

I still have a paper due next week (let’s not talk about that QUITE yet), but the Required Reading segment of the year has ended for now.

May and June will be spent in reading repose.

(Except for the impossibly-Type-A part of me that already has books that COULD end up on July’s syllabus showing up on the library’s hold shelf. Oy.)

For those of you keeping track at home, my semester’s syllabus prescribed 61 books this semester:

I only missed five, (but missing this one pretty much didn’t count.)

1. The Heart is Not A Size by Beth Kephart

This book was alright, but just alright. It’s the story of two best friends – one steadfast and plain, one flighty and fashionable – who take a summer service trip to Juarez, Mexico. The Flighty Fashionable friend is anorexic, natch, and the steadfast and plain one has to find a way to help her after a confrontation throws a wrench in their friendship.

I’m sure it was a fine book, a nice, quiet read, but it’s hard for nice, quiet stories to stand out when you are reading 2-4 books a week for extended periods of time.

On another note, I realized weeks after reading this that I met Ms. Kephart, briefly, at the YA authors “speed dating” event at ALA last summer! She was perfectly nice and I made a (apparently forgotten) note to pick up one of her books.

2. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

I really love this book. I have read it SO many times (Maybe 6 times? It only got my hands on it in late 2007, so this is kind of a lot), but each and every time I sink into it like an over-stuffed couch. With pillows. And I basically never want it to end.

Such a favorite of mine. Love love love Frankie.

2009 Printz Honor, 2008 National Book Award Finalist, 2008 Cybils Winner – Young Adult Fiction

3. Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan

I had some problems with this book, but overall, it was an enjoyable read.

Okay, commence light-spoilers:

The plot of the novel revolves around one young protagonist, Blake who is in a pseudo-love triangle with his lovely girlfriend, Shannon, and this girl in his photography class, Marissa.

So it’s like, “duh, Blake and Marissa are probably going to hook-up” the entire book. Whatever. There are no new stories in the world, I can handle a little predictability.

Two problems:

1) The novel also hinges on this depiction of Blake-as-Miserable-Nerd who JUST found the beginnings of love with Shannon, and he’s so happy to finally  have a girlfriend. So how am I supposed to believe that this kid who can’t even figure out how to talk about maybe losing mutual-virginities with Shannon – the girl who already adores him – can suddenly Lothario his way into bed with Marissa? And then, afterwards, he lounges around in the nude taking sexy photographs of her?

That is just way too slick.

2)…. and WHAT THE HELL! WHO TAKES NAKED PICTURES OF THEIR SORDID AFFAIR WITHOUT EXPECTING TO GET CAUGHT?

When I got to that part, I literally threw the book down. I didn’t want to read the rest because it was just going to be painful and awkward and obviously end very, very poorly.

Other than book-throwing, I suppose it was alright.

2010 William C. Morris Award Winner

4. Jumping off Swings by Jo Knowles

I liked this book a lot when I read it the first time, and it even made my Best YA Fiction Reads of 2009.

Everything I said it that previous review still holds true. Refer accordingly.

5. Going Bovine by Libba Bray

I was a little miffed when most of my classmates were either neutral or negative about this book.

I read it last summer and while I enjoyed it, I also walked away with the feeling that there was a LOT going on in the book that I couldn’t possibly grasp in one reading.

My classmates read this as “Libba Bray, you need a better editor,” aka “This book was about 200 pages too long.”

Well, phooey on them.

For those of you who haven’t read it, the story is fairly unbelievable – teenage boy contracts Mad Cow, is approached by an angel in his hospital room who tells him he has to find a time-traveling mad scientist who needs to save the world AND, conveniently, can cure him. Commence epic road trip/hallucination/Don Quixote retelling.

I liked the epic feel of this heavy, lengthy novel. I haven’t read Don Quixote but it reminded me a lot of a childhood favorite of mine,  Gulliver’s Travels, with visits to strange “societies,” road blocks, and heavy satire. And I didn’t think the novel READ long – Bray’s writing here is light, quick-moving, banter-y…

Phooey on you naysayers! I bet you all liked Jellicoe Road, too.

2010 Printz Winner

6. Postcards from No Man’s Land by Aidan Chambers

I liked this book more than I thought I would.

Which is how all raving book review start, right?

Anyway, the book has two interwoven storylines. Here’s the quick-and-dirty:

Jacob is seventeen and visiting Amsterdam for the first time, on his own, in order to meet the woman – Geertrui – who saved his grandfather’s life in WWII and visit his grandfather’s grave. On the way, he befriends Geertrui’s grandson, deals with his fictional-love-affair with Anne Frank – one of Amsterdam’s most famous residents – and questions his sexuality.

The other story is Geertrui’s: she writes the story of her own teenage girlhood, during which WWII fighting ravaged her home village, killed her parents, and drove her from her home. During this time, though, Jacob’s grandfather – a wounded British soldier – fell under her care, and they fell in love in the short time before his death.

I wasn’t a fan of Jacob’s seemingly random, destination-less  jaunts around Amsterdam, and Geertrui’s story started out a tid-bit historical for my personal tastes, but in the end, I was satisfied by how the stories worked together and felt that the novel had DONE something, had GONE somewhere by the end of the book.

This reading experience is probably a metaphor for Jacob’s own journey to Discover A Stable, Adult Identity, but I’m going to save those academic-y proclamations for my one-final-paper, thanks.

2003 Printz Winner

7. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

I may or may not have started an in-class uprising about this book.

You see, I read it when it won the Printz in 2009…. started it, read the middle, finished it, and said “eh.”

(Actually, I said FRANKIE GOT ROBBED! But anyway…)

A lot of people really liked this books. Blog people. People in my program who read widely, read for quality, and generally have good taste. Friends of mine without a lot of literary pretension. People on the Printz committee. So while I wasn’t looking forward to re-reading a book that I really didn’t like the first time around, I was hoping that a re-read would be all I needed.

Nope. Still didn’t like it.

This probably warrants a longer post, but the evidence:

1) Needlessly confusing, especially names of characters. Too many! Ack!

2) I didn’t give two rips about the narrator, the annoyingly moody Taylor Markham (and I am really not easily annoyed by narrators)

3) Major plot-line (territory wars between boarding school students, military school students, and townies) that was pretty dumb and didn’t really end up mattering at all.

4) Jokes that just weren’t funny

5) Side characters that served no purpose

6) Side plot about a rampant serial killer that ended with “Oh, they found out who he was. He was a postman. Moving on!”

Okay, I’m stopping myself. I just really couldn’t get into this.

Oh, and FRANKIE GOT ROBBED!!!!

2009 Printz Winner, 2008 Cybils Finalist – Young Adult Fiction

8. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

And now, moving on to a Printz committee that knew what they were doing.

This is an awesome graphic novel with three stories:

Story #1 is a piece of Chinese mythology about the Monkey King who tries to become a God by mastering kung-fu and kicking a lot of immortal butt.

Story #2 is about a Chinese-American kid who moved to the suburbs and tries to fit in with his White Bread Classmates and Teachers who think he can’t speak English.

Story #3 is an imaginary, incredibly racist television sitcom about a White Bread Teenager’s boisterously Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee.

Somehow, these stories become a single story. It is a completely awe-inspiring ending.

2007 Printz Winner, 2006 National Book Award Finalist, 2006 Best Books for YA Top 10

9. Hold Still  by Nina LaCour

The last session of my YA class (which I will attend later today) will focus on “New Voices in YA,” so I’m assuming the four novels we read for class were cherry-picked for their Newness and their Promising-ness.

And, true to form, this was one of the few books that I read this semester that I REALLY, unabashedly enjoyed.

Like 4 out of 5 books read for class this year, this is a book about a tragedy. Caitlin’s best friend, Ingrid, kills herself after silently battling with depression. Caitlin is blindsided, but suddenly regretful of her every life choice and unable to move past her complicity as Best Friend. The book follows Caitlin around as she learns to relate to other people – even if they might disappear on her, even though she might wrong them – and find a stable place to be again.

It’s all about grief and recovery, which sound kind of boring, but the writing and the honest tone made the book so, so readable. I’ll be keeping my eye out for LaCour’s next move, for sure.

2010 William C. Morris Award Finalist

10. The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees

Don’t let the scary tattoo-cover fool you…

this is just your run-of-the-mill YA Book For Boys.

Quite similar to Flash Burnout, actually.

Both books feature Tension Between Brothers – specifically, Awkward Younger Brothers and Cool Older Brothers.

Both books have  strangely romance-centric plots… all roads lead to the High School Dance?

But in case you forgot this was a Book for Boys, The Brothers Torres has a lot of foul humor!

I’m fine with foul humor, I just prefer Jokes That Are Actually Funny.

And after reading Jellicoe Road and this one, I’m beginning to think that Jokes That Aren’t Funny are the BIGGEST deal-breaker with me and a book.

I can read a lot of mediocre/crappy novels and find SOMETHING redeeming in them, but try crack a joke that feels forced? I’m done.

What can I say – I’m a woman of strange aesthetics.

10 books read in April

(right on pace)

43 in 2011

January |February| March

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5 Responses to “April Reading Round-up”

  1. I love Frankie with all my heart as well. (Except I LOVE Jellicoe Road too . . . ).

  2. Hello. Your blog is good today. Just a compliment for your blog.

    • It took me weeks to give Lance a compliment on his beard.

      I was ashamed of myself and started rewatching FOTC shortly thereafter

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