All this joyful crying at the Olympics got me thinking: why not take a tearful look back at the last seven months to see just how many books have made me cry? It's only three so it won't be too painful.
I should preface this by saying that I'm not a big crier while reading. So 2012 has been a particularly productive year thus far.
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler. Illustrations by Maira Kalman
Did this book make me cry out of sadness? No. Oh no. This book made me cry out of pure, unfiltered rage. Is there anyone I hate more in this world than Ed Slaterton? Probably not.
To counter the sadness and rage blackout, this Amazon interview with Handler and Kalman brings the LOLs. I love how awkward the whole thing is with the interviewer and am especially tickled by their description of the "working process" that starts around 5:10.
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Who doesn't cry reading this book? I mean, really. The interesting thing about TFIOS is that it has a major Charlotte's Web effect on me. That means that I can be anywhere, doing anything, and reading the last line of the book will put tears in my eyes. I was trying to pester our Summer Reading Club assistant into reading TFIOS and actually got damp peepers in front of her when I flipped to the back page. And it convinced her to check out the book! Note to librarians: teary eyes sell books. And make you look like a crazypants.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd. Illustrations by Jim Kay.
Hoo boy, I have never, never cried so hard reading. I literally had to put down the book, take off my glasses and put my head in my hands and sob. That was followed by crying steadily for the last 40 pages. It is such an exquisite, articulate, seemingly effortless portrayal of loss and self-doubt and fear. Brilliant.
And you know, while we're on this whole sad theme, let me also share the only book trailer to ever make me cry. This is the trailer for Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been? by Dan Bar-el with illustrations by Rae Maté.
WHAT IF THE CAT NEVER CAME BACK!?! Oh, it makes me so sad.
And just for good measure, the movie that has made me cry the most is a bit of a shocker so I'll throw it in here too. It's completely ridiculous, but I bawled through most of District 9. I was so, so, so concerned for that little alien baby! Thank goodness for the internet, because someone has made a bad quality clip montage of the alien baby with "Dust In the Wind" in the background! YES!
You wanna know what makes a quality young adult romance? One that really sticks out from the pack and just kicks you right in the nuts of your heart?
That's right. There is no romance more exciting to read than one that centres around really inconvenient love. Figuring out how to love someone when you both have cancer? Inconvenient. Deciding whether or not you should return to consciousness post-auto accident for your boyfriend? Super inconvenient. Trying to love someone you thought was a girl but then turned out to be a boy? Definitely not on the list of the top ten most convenient things.
Of course, those three scenarios refer to some of my recent favorite lurve-themed YA books: John Green's The Fault In Our Stars, Gayle Forman's If I Stay and Brian Katcher's Almost Perfect. They are brilliant in different ways (and of course deal with many other themes beyond love), but all feature characters who must really, seriously give 'er to earn what their heart desires. I think this theme of inconvenient love is so powerful that it can even carry a the book in the absence of really terrible writing (see: Twilight).
But what does all this talk of inconvenience have to do with David Levithan's new book, Every Day? It is officially one of the most inconvenient cases of love I have ever had the pleasure of reading. The book's main character, simply called A, wakes up in the body of a different person every day. The body might belong to a male or female, a straight, gay or bisexual person, a person of any race - the only consistency is that all the bodies belong to sixteen-year-old people. This is all going along fine until A meets Rhiannon. A falls in love with Rhiannon. And then things get SUPER INCONVENIENT. Because how can you love someone when you have a different body every day? How the heck can that possibly work?
It's a conundrum and a half, and that is why Every Day is so addictive. As readers, we want to find out how someone in such an impossibly difficult, inconvenient situation could make it work. Because if some genderless being with no body can make it work in love, then certainly we all have a shot, right?
This novel is not only exceptional in its premise, but in the brilliant points it subtly makes about the fluidity and elusive nature of gender. Is this the first YA romance featuring a protagonist with no assigned gender? I think so. And that is a really big deal. When this book inevitably becomes a Hollywood blockbuster, I just hope that A remains genderless, and we don't discover at the end that the character's "true" form is actually Taylor Lautner. Or Selena Gomez. Or the dog from The Artist.
And, like every David Levithan book, Every Day is dripping with descriptions of emotions and feelings that are normally impossible to put into words. I swear that there is something on every page of his books that I want to have printed on a t-shirt so I can run out into the street and shout "This is exactly how I feel! Don't you ever feel like this too!?"
If the human heart had a spokesperson, if would be David Levithan.
No offense, Maya Angelou.
Now I have been late to the party on a few things. When it comes to my Abraham Lincoln obsession, I'm about a century and a half late on that trend.
This all started in February. I am an audiobook fiend as I am unable to read in a moving vehicle without spewing. I also like to spice up mundane tasks like folding laundry or steaming my dresses by listening to an audiobook (note: that last sentence is going to appear in the personal ad I post at age 85). Basically, if I'm not reading a book I'm probably listening to one.
I randomly downloaded Chasing Lincoln's Killer on audiobook. I knew nothing about Lincoln other than the fact that he wore noteworthy hats. Within 25 minutes of listening to James L. Swanson's book, I was hooked.
There is no better audiobook in the world. Will Patton narrates and he does an impeccable job.
This is the thing: I am Canadian. Presidents don't get much stage time on our curriculum. This is about the most excitement we get from a national leader (which, granted, was a big deal):
So before listening to Swanson's book, I didn't really get the Lincoln thing. I certainly had no idea how insanely CRAY the events were before and after his assassination. The General Seward bit!? Mother of Pearl, I almost had a heart attack.
Since listening to the audiobook of Chasing Lincoln's Killer, I have watched several Lincoln documentaries and am slowly savouring Candace Fleming's The Lincolns: a scrapbook look at Abraham and Mary. No matter what is going on in my life, reading that dang scrapbook totally takes me away. If I'm having a bad day, it always helps to know that I don't have to tackle the abolition of slavery. For some inexplicable reason, anything Lincoln-related has an uncanny ability to distract and comfort me. This is exactly how those five-year-old boys who are obsessed with dinosaur books must feel.
So if The Chicago Tribune is right and the Lincoln wave is coming, that will no doubt trickle down to children's books as all thing tend to do. And I can't wait. It's been tough for me to get Canuck kids and teens interested in Lincoln stuff (or, indoctrinate them with my obsession) because they have no point of reference and don't really care about American presidents. And there is so much great Lincoln stuff out there already, with some notable 2012 titles. These are on my to-read list:
To close, here I am in a state of bliss outside the animatronic Lincoln Disneyland feature a few weeks ago post-ALA Saturday. There was no line, because people are suckas and don't realize that an animatronic Lincoln rivals Splash Mountain.
I want to begin this review by making a confession:
I own an Insight From the Dalai Lama calendar. You ever wonder who buys those for 75% at the bookstore? It was me. I admit it.
It is one of those page-a-day rip-off style ones with a new quote for each day. Except for the weekends - there is only one quote/page for Saturday and Sunday. I guess the Dalai Lama needs some time off too.
What does this have to do with Rebecca Stead's new book? Two things.
First, I was incredibly eager to see if Liar & Spy was going to live up to the Rebecca Stead of When You Reach Me. Like everyone else on the planet, I fell deeply in love with that book and Stead's writing style. To me, Stead is the Dalai Lama of children's books. Her prose are at once deep and moving but always optimistic and full of love. She writes with such economy and clarity. If Stead's words had a body, I think they would look like the Dalai Lama: smiley, comfy and a just a little bit kooky (have you heard the Dalai Lama laugh? It's a bit kooky. But enjoyable so).
I worried that this mix of loveliness and faith that permeated When You Reach Me was a bit of a fluke, and Stead was going to come out next with a dystopian adventure set in Norse mythology or something. Or that her next book would just be WYRM 1.0. But Liar & Spy isn't WYRM 1.0. It's just as good. It might even be better.
The second reason I bring up my Dalai Lama calendar is because I believe owning one is highly embarrassing. Isn't it just one step away from owning a Chicken Soup For the Soul book? I mean, really. And I don't just own the calendar, people. I save some of the quotes and put them on my fridge. I take them down before I have company, much like a murderer would hide the arms and legs of her latest victim before having a friend over for sushi and Mad Men.
I bring this up because it relates to one of the themes I found particularly intriguing about Liar & Spy, which is the theme of lying to oneself. I can't get into detail without blowing the lid off Stead's now-signature surprise awesome endings, but both main characters - Georges and Safer - have trouble coming to grips with aspects of themselves. That's really all the plot synopsis you need. This "coming to grips" theme usually makes up the whole plot of a middle grade book: kid can't come to grips with the fact she has an absentee parent, kid can't come to grips with the fact he is partly some sort of magical beast or wizard or whatever, kid can't come to grips with the fact he is a horn growing out his butt. You get the idea. But the brilliance of Liar & Spy is that figuring out our protagonists' weaknesses compromises the book's big climax/revelation - it's not the whole dang show. And that is cool.
Others have done much better Lia & Spy reviews wherein they don't divulge personal oddities and/or affection for the Dalai Lama. Travis Jonker has a great one over at 100 Scope Notes and Betsy Bird included it in her recent post on 2013 Newbery predictions (my money is on her money that it is going to be a Random House vs. Random House kinda year).
To end this post, I think we should all enjoy this moment of the Dalai Lama not understanding a joke about pizza.
Yes, I'm still posting about ALA because it was my first one and dang exciting. If you had just experienced Christmas for the first time on June 22, don't you think you would still be blogging about it too? I thought so.
Previous to actually attending ALA, I would follow the conference hashtag on Twitter and feel generally sorry for myself that I had never attended. These feelings of self-pity would really flare when I saw photos from the exhibit floor - "Oh look, there's Mo Willems just casually strolling by!" someone would post along with a twitpic. Way to rub it in.
The thing is, I was always really curious to see what the actual booths looked like - especially the booths of my beloved Canadian publishers. No one really ever posted pictures of the exhibits themselves, just the fabulous people inhabiting them for four days. So this post is basically for myself pre-June 22, 2012. But hopefully some of you who haven't attended ALA, or didn't get a chance to stop at the great Canadian kidlit booths, will be mildly interested.
Kids Can Press is the equivalent of the person who really gets the party started. And, try as you might, it's hard not to get excited about a Christmas Scaredy book. Behold their booth:
Has Groundwood ever published an unclassy book? I think not. I am also loving their new book, I Have the Right to Be a Child which teachers will be clamoring for in the Fall, I know. Because I won't be working for National Geographic anytime soon, all I have is this photo of their banner. Sigh. But it is a beautiful banner.
One of my favourites and publisher of Susin Nielsen who I am apparently obsessed with judging by my last couple posts. And the cover of The French Fry King makes me so happy.
Publisher of one of my faves, Shirley Woods - does anyone do books like Shirley Woods? Novels about fictional animals (that don't talk and aren't creepily anthropomorphized!) that are an amazing hybrid of fiction and non-fiction and completely engaging/dramatic?
They do it all. From the much-buzzed creep show of Erebos (which I still need to read but is never on the shelves) to Robert Munsch to non-fiction queen (and awesome gal) Tanya Lloyd Kyi, Annick is all awesome.
I somehow missed getting a picture of Orca's booth, which is bad because I love them and they are the closest geographically to my apartment. They are also coming out with a very interesting new YA series called Seven. The premise: a grandfather with a pretty interesting/adventurous past dies. He has seven grandsons. They all takes different paths and are presumably affected by grandpa's death in different ways. Each of the seven books is penned by a different, highly awesome Canadian author. It sounds like a Canuck 39 Clues for teens. Should be nifty.
Big apologies if I'm missing any Canadian youth publishers here. It really was great fun to see them at the exhibits - felt like a little bit of home.
Let me close this blog post with a nod to the subpar Sbarro in the Hilton food court, provider of my lunch - a piece of cheese pizza - for three straight days at ALA. Because I was entirely too busy and overstimulated to find a tastier, more nutritious option, I tip my hat to thee for being so convenient and having a way shorter line than the equally subpar Baja Fresh.
Let us all rise and give thanks for Susin Nielsen's amazing new book:
I picked this ARC up at the Tundra booth at ALA. My pal Kay did too. Before we even read it, we were tremendously excited. We had a conversation that went roughly like this before the USBBY panel on writing about war for young people:
Kay: I got Susin Nielsen's new -
Shannon: (interrupting as usual): Oh me too. It looks really -
Kay and Shannon: (in unison) Really good.
Kay: I think this is going to be the one to really break her into the American market.
Shannon: Me too. And then we can be all smug about it.
The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen tells the story of thirteen-year-old Henry and his dad. They have just moved to Vancouver (the entire story takes place within a three block radius of my apartment which is so cool. But I digress). Where is Henry's mom? She's in a psychiatric facility in Ontario. Why is she in a psychiatric facility? Because Henry's older brother, Jesse, took a hunting rifle to school and shot a classmate before shooting himself. Henry is now being encouraged by his hippie therapist to keep a journal as a means to help process his feelings. The results are hilarious and poignant and absolutely true-to-life. In other words, you will LOL and you will :`(
That is a crying emoticon by the way - not some weird Canadian symbol used to review stellar books.
You will just fall in love with Henry. He has gained a bit of weight since the tragedy and refers to his new un-svelte bits as his "wobblies." He loves wrestling. He never fails to notice his female neighbour's huge bazongas. When he shuts down emotionally, he will only talk in a robot voice. He is both sensitive and rude, deeply insightful and totally clueless. He is Nielsen's most authentic, hilarious character to date, which is really saying something because no one can write a middle grade character like Susin Nielsen.
This book also manages to deal with the aftermath of a school shooting in a way that is totally realistic without ever tipping over into melodrama. Like The Fault in Our Stars was so much more than a cancer book, this is so much more than a school shooting book. There are some definite tougher moments, especially around the bullying that Henry's brother endured before committing the murder-suicide, but they are quick and never unnecessary. This is solid middle grade material that is ideal for Grades 6-8 and won't traumatize your heartier Grade 5s. I think some librarians might order it because of the subject matter, but they will be pleasantly surprised to find that it makes just as big of a contribution to their humour collection as their "issue" collection. Fans of Tom Angleberger and Jack Gantos will really dig this.
When I was trying to explain this book and Susin Nielsen to my mom, she quickly interjected "I know who Susin Nielsen is, Shannon. I watched the credits of Degrassi. Credits are very important." Americans are really missing out on how awesome Degrassi Junior High was in the 1980s - the original series before Drake was on it. The coolest thing about Degrassi was the ensemble nature of the cast. A few episodes would focus on a handful of characters and then the focus would shift to other characters and their storylines. Half the fun of watching Degrassi was seeing your favourite characters walk by in the background; the actors would be principal actors in one episode and extras the next. Nielsen wrote a whole bunch of Degrassi episodes, and her mad screenwriting skillz really shine in her novels as she also takes the ensemble approach with her books. Ambrose from Word Nerd is on Henry's school trivia team. Karen from Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom is Henry's upstairs neighbour. The list goes on. I can't tell you how much kids love making these connections and reporting them to us at the information desk.
So for those of you in the know about Susin Nielsen: this book lives up to everything you are expecting and more. For those of you who are Nielsen neophytes, stock up on her stuff now so you can share in my smugness.