Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Alex Read #3:
over and under by Todd Tucker

Aarrggh! Reading 10 books before the end of school is a little challenging, but fun. Writing about each one is HARD!! Especially if it's one I enjoyed. Why is writing about something I didn't especially like much easier?

over and under is a graceful novel about best friends Andy and Tom, and the last summer before high school. It's 1979, and the boys rule their rural south Indiana kingdom, riding bikes, spying on the local factory strike, exploring caves and practicing their crackerjack marksmanship. Tom and Andy aren't identical, though. Tom, son of a large family, impulsive and reckless, is the instigator of the adventures that only-child Andy follows and narrates. The strike at the Borden Casket Company highlights another difference: Tom's family is labor, Andy's is management. And when one of Tom's cousins is implicated in an explosion that kills the factory manager, family loyalties pull hard and set the friends on divergent paths toward their adult selves.

The story is narrated by an adult Andy, with the maturity and knowledge of hindsight, so even though there's a lot of action in the book (chase scenes, drunken ne'er-do-wells, shotguns, even some swordplay) the overall effect is reflective: the rawness and tension fades somewhat. The opening chapter is a little misleading -- I almost didn't get past the horrific accident with a factory saw that sets the stage for the years-later factory bombing.

There's a nicely done subplot about women's rights and domestic violence that, while is kind of obvious, is also essential to Andy's coming-of-age that summer. The book has been compared to To Kill a Mockingbird (which I think is a bit of a stretch) and Stand By Me (the movie from Stephen King's story "The Body," which feels closer). I'd also put it in with Jim the Boy and Dandelion Wine. And something about the cave explorations and escape, and the brutish father of Andy's crush, echo stories of another pair of rural adventurers, Tom & Huck from Missouri.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Alex Awards Read #4:
Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

As a reviewer, I tend to follow a Booklist-style policy -- only publish reviews of recommended books. If I don't like it, I just don't write about it. But, I promised to read AND briefly review all 10 Alex Award books before the end of the year. Sigh.

So I forced myself to keep picking up Sharp Teeth, a novel-in-blank-verse about packs of wolf- or dog- people living and fighting in Los Angeles. Though they are supposedly "lycanthropes" or werewolves, they spend an awful lot of time masquerading as plain old dogs. A main character, Lark, is the leader of a pack that's just been betrayed and scattered by one of its own. Lark seems to have some big plan (he works as a lawyer, I think, in his human life. Is this allegory?) involving poker and infiltrating rival packs. There's an unnamed female, who leaves the pack for Anthony, a nice guy (100% human, at least for a while) who's just gotten a job as a dogcatcher. And a bunch of other characters, including a brute who heads the rival (and much less refined) pack, several women who either start or end as the lone female that holds an otherwise all-male pack together (through the doling out of sex, I think, which seems to be the way these critters work), and some policeman whose role in the story I never quite got the point of.

If you're getting the impression that I skimmed most of this book, you'd be right. I did try, really I did. I picked it back up three times, hoping I would figure out why it got good reviews and was selected for the Alex Award list. Eventually I gave up, and just started turning pages, looking for clues to what happens.

I will say that I did reflect quite a bit on the whole free-verse novel format, wondering if that's why I didn't like this book. That wasn't it -- I actually respect the format more than before, for its spare language and the way it forces the reader to bring imagination and poetry to the reading experience. Nope, it's just the story. I can't figure out why anybody thought it needed to be written, that's all.

When you don't like a book that has gotten awards and good press, it does make you wonder where the problem lies: am I shallow, dumb, missing something important? Maybe. I will see if any of our good high school "customers" are interested in reading Sharp Teeth and giving me an opinion. For now, I'm moving on to the next 2009 Alex Award book on my list, and hoping it's a "page turner" of a more satisfying sort.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

GLBT Fiction NOT in the Paideia Library -
But You Should Know About Anyway

Usually one wants to highlight all the really good services that your organization DOES offer. In this case, however, there's just so much Young Adult (and YA-friendly) fiction coming out that our library just can't buy it all, even though we have readers who've read everything we've got in a genre and still want more. At one point, I started creating a "next-best" running list of titles of GLBT novels that sound good but aren't in the Paideia Library's collection. But you know what? There are just too many!

Instead, I very heartily recommend the blog of YA author Lee Wind
, who has been committed to reviewing GLBTQ-themed novels for teens since early 2007. The sidebar of his blog, I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell Do I Read? links to all his reviews, categorized by theme. Check it out.

Other places to look for recommendations:

The Lambda Literary Foundation, which gives the annual Lammy awards and publishes the Lambda Book Report GLBT Literature, a website devoted to books, cinema and other GLBT arts.

The Rainbow List from the American Library Association. The 2009 list features 34 recently published books for youth from birth through age 18, representing a broad range of GLBTQ experience.

You can find these books at your local public library (links to Atlanta-area online catalogs here), in libraries around the world (via WorldCat), or as a last resort, you could buy them at your local independent bookstore.

Of course, you can always check the
Paideia library catalog, or the recommended reading lists for all the great books we DO own!