Tag Archives: YA

If nothing else, I read some good books this year


2016 was . . . certainly an exceptional year wasn’t it?

Stay tuned for my annual year-end roundup. I’ll recap what’s been happening with me, take a look back at the goals I set for 2016, and set some for 2017. Before I get to the books, though, here’s a preview of the two modes of 2016:


I mean, it wasn’t all bad. Here’s one of the good parts:


But anyway, here are the best books that I read this year. There are 22 books. I know that number doesn’t make sense, but 2016 doesn’t make sense. Here’s to some more great literature in 2017!

Middle Grade/YA

Giant Days – John Allison and Lissa Treiman – My new favorite comic of this year – don’t worry, Squirrel Girl and Saga and Lumberjanes, I still love you –  about a group of friends’ hijinks in college. Great art, too.

Labyrinth Lost – Zoraida Cordova – Innovative urban fantasy set in NYC and magical realms between worlds. A great system of magic featuring Latinx heroines and family love. Great for fans of diverse fantasy like Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper.

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog – Adam Gidwitz and Hatem Aly – Amazing illuminations about a Joan of Arc-esque girl, her dog, a Jewish boy looking for his family, and a too tall African-European monk. Sweet and engaging.

Girl in Pieces – Kathleen Glasgow – Will probably break your heart. Charlie has had a rough life: drugs, cutting, homelessness, and abuse. Her journey from feeling broken to feeling hopeful again is really lovely without being schmoopy.

Outrun the Moon – Stacey Lee – The new best historical fiction author in YA. A story about the 1906 San Fransisco earthquake and unlikely friendship between entitled white girls and a plucky Chinese-American heroine. Mercy is the BEST.

The Female of the Species – Mindy McGinnis – A tale of teen vigilante justice with some piercing explanations of rape culture.  A hard read but worth it.

When the Moon Was Ours – Anna-Marie McLemore – Two teens fall in love amidst gender issues and magical realism. A lovely story. I knew as soon as I started that it would destroy me in the best possible way. It did. Read it.

Goldenhand – Garth Nix – I was disappointed in his Old Kingdom prequel Clariel that came out last year, but Goldenhand continues the story of Lirael, the most badass Second Assistant Librarian ever. All of your favorite characters from the original three books make an appearance. Yes, ALL of them. You’ll cry too. 🙂

Ghost – Jason Reynolds – A boy trying to out run his problems – “altercations” at school, his dad in jail for threatening him and his mother with a gun, living in a “bad” neighborhood – finds that he can really run. He joins a local track team to find friends, bravery, and forgiveness. A sweet read that I hope gets on many summer reading lists next  year. (I mean, if you have to have a prescribed SR list, this book might as well be on it for 5th/6th graders.)

All American Boys – Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely – Anything Reynolds is involved with turns to gold! This is an important book about a Black teen who gets beaten by a cop, and the white kid who witnesses it. For people who are still wondering about the Black Lives Matter movement read this. (All of you get out of here with your All Lives Matter nonsense. If you’re still saying that, you’re not getting it.)

Echo – Pam Munoz Ryan – A sweet story of three different young people connecting over the same harmonica: one fleeing Nazi Germany, one adopted out of an orphanage in Philadelphia, and one trying to keep her family together in the face of segregation in California. I highly recommend the audio version as music is an important part of the story and the audio does it very, very well.

Saving Montgomery Sole – Mariko Tamaki –  A sensitive coming of age tale mixed in with a reminder that people all contain multitudes and have the potential for compassion. A great quiet, contemporary YA novel.

Adult Fiction

The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood – I read the whole MaddAddam series this year but Year of the Flood is the best. Atwood excels when she’s telling women’s stories and The Year of the Flood is about Toby and other women in her circle. I cried more at the end of the third book, MaddAddam, than I have over a book in a long time. Just thinking about it makes me weep. A timely – yes, sadly just as timely as Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale – and more emotional.

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett – A story of a whaling family in Australia and their struggles and triumphs. Sad and sweet and ultimately fulfilling.

The Queen of the Night – Alexander Chee – A huge book encompassing the Franco-Prussian War, opera, and betrayal. Great for those who like epic character studies and music.

The Fifth Season/The Obelisk Gate – N.K. Jemisin – These books are so good it’s bonkers. A science fiction dystopia with strange geological powers and consequences. You will not forget these characters or their situations. You’ll also be reminded of how important the moon is, in case you forgot.

Adult Nonfiction

Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates – Required reading for everyone. A heart breaking and honest letter from Coates to his son about how the world isn’t made for him and how American culture and life at large is built on the bodies of Black people.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America – Ibram X. Kendi – I’m only halfway through this book and had to take a break because it’s a slow read and someone else had a hold on it. But it’s incredible. It will, however, show you how little has changed in the U.S. when it comes to race relations. It’s pretty disheartening.

Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present – Alison Mathews-David – An amazing book about not just silly fashion trends that are dangerous – hobble skirts that “hobble” you so you can barely walk – but also the techniques that used to make clothes that will also kill you. May dissuade you from wearing the color emerald-green ever again.

Shrill: Women Are Funny, It’s Okay to Be Fat, and Feminists Don’t Have to Be Nice – Lindy West – A hilarious book with spot on ruminations about feminism and more. Great if you like essays and personal narratives.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration – Isabel Wilkerson – This book is a tour-de-force about the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to the North and West from the 1910s to the 1970s. Wilkerson follows three people who made the migration in different years. A fascinating look at history that I didn’t know very much about.



So that was the best of what I read this year. You can see the rest of what I read over on Goodreads. Happy reading!





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Stray observations

I’ve had a few things kicking around in my head that I’ve wanted to write about but have been extremely lazy. I haven’t really been able to form them into coherent longer thoughts. So. I’ll make semi-coherent short thoughts.

Here’s what I’ve been pondering:

-First to all you YA/Teen librarians out there, do you feel an obligation to provide volunteer programs for your teens during the year or summer? My library has for the last few years, but last year’s was a struggle. They are so many kids who need volunteer time and it’s a beast to plan and supervise. My coworker feels she’s done everything under the sun and we’re dreading coming up with ideas? We’ve floated around the idea of not doing anything, but I feel somewhat strongly that we, as the town library, should provide an program. Any thoughts? Are we just being really lazy (this is entirely possible)?

-There was a bit of a kerfluffle in the YA world about some comments Andrew Smith, whose books I do generally really like made about girls. Here is the comment made to Vice:

“[VICE]: On the flip side, it sometimes seems like there isn’t much of a way into your books for female readers. Where are all the women in your work?
[SMITH]: I was raised in a family with four boys, and I absolutely did not know anything about girls at all. I have a daughter now; she’s 17. When she was born, that was the first girl I ever had in my life. I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though.”

When I saw the comments, I thought, “Huh. So he didn’t try to investigate the lives of girls until he had a daughter? Not even his wife?” It reminded me a bit of when people try to get a man to care about women’s issues by saying, “Imagine this happening to your mother or wife or daughter?” As if men can’t possibly care about a woman that isn’t related or known to him. That men can’t care about women as greater members of humanity first, and then humans they know second.

Fellow YA author Tessa Gratton wrote a response to the comments and ends saying, “I’m not asking for boycotts or apologies, I’m asking that we keep talking about this, keep pointing it out, keep making it shameful and at least annoying to say things like this. I was nearly scared out of writing this up simply because it’s hard to listen to haters and stalkers and trolls, and I’m pretty damn busy writing my feminist novels. But shouldn’t it be harder for someone to willingly participate in a culture of sexism than it is for us to talk about it out loud, and publicly?” I agree with her completely, and because this is the life we lead, she was harassed and threatened on Twitter. You know, by grown-ass people.

The whole thing just made me sad and tired because I’m not sure Smith was trying to be sexist, it’s just that its so easy for many of us to get caught up in that culture, and say things that reflect it without knowing. Chuck Wendig writes about this a bit, in a post that is very thought-provoking. Maybe that’s why I started the Alex Crow and didn’t get far. I just couldn’t get into it. And maybe it was because of this backstory. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad that is books feature mostly boy characters. There can be books about boys and everyone can read them. But I will admit, if I’m looking for a book that has great girl characters, I’m probably not going to read an Andrew Smith book. I guess, I just don’t know if that’s ok. It’s still something to think about.

-Finally, this piece in the Harvard Crimson (yesssss, so fancy! Ted, make me another martini!) is really lovely and piercing:

“There were books you didn’t write because you are sensitive, because of course you are sensitive, because the half-sleights and the full-sleights wear you down and all the books in you start rioting and say: Hey! I am a book! Let me out, let me out of here! […]

Let’s tally up all the days it was difficult to get out of bed.

Let’s tally up all the time we spent turning to the side, and then to the other side, so we could see our bellies in the mirror every morning before showering: grabbing our thighs, grabbing our other thighs, doing it again. Five minutes a day for 10 years. […]”

I feel that way sometimes about writing or about trying new things or doing the hobbies I enjoy. Sometimes I wonder what I could do if I could get out of my way and not let others hold me back.

Deep thoughts this morning, folks. Luckily, I’m actually ok. The sun is shining and the snow has melted from in front of my house. Go forth into the world and be great, friends!




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High vs. low, adult vs. teen? Just read, folks.

[I’ve had two draft posts sitting around for a week or so without finishing them. Here’s one. The next one is about adult library programming!]

I think Lichtenstein is a good illustration for a high/low culture debate. What about pop art, huh, critics?!

I think Lichtenstein is a good illustration for a high/low culture debate. What about pop art, huh, critics?!

Apparently, there’s another article about how books for kids/books for teens/trashy books/comics/not “literary fiction/not the classics/not the books the writer likes to read are bad for you and you shouldn’t read them. This one is about Percy Jackson and how they will steer kids who love them into more Percy Jackson-esque books and not to the Odyssey and what not. This is not true in my experience as a reader and as a librarian: if a kid or adult even is really interested in something, she will seek out whatever information she can find. Some will be a stretch for her as a reader, but her background knowledge – as fictionalized and geared to a specific audience as it may be – will help her decipher, and feel more excited about, more complex texts and themes.

Additionally, I am getting tired of reading these articles and reading about them and thinking about responses and defending YA for teens AND adults or whoever.

It’s just tiring. I’m tired.

So once and for all, let me just say: read whatever you want! Read mysteries, read comics, read Melville, read Jacqueline Carey, or Saga, or Twilight, or Christopher Hitchens, read Elizabeth Bishop, or The Hunger Games, or Derrida, or Henry James, or Nancy Drew, or A.S. King or whatever. Or read them all. Read high and read low. I’ve read some or all of all of those things listed above. Some are “high culture” with supposed, so-called, and sometimes confirmed in my opinion, “literary merit,” and challenge me to think in different ways and are legitimately difficult to read. Some are “low culture” that may be “easier” to read but can still be challenging because of concept, issues, or themes, or can just be escapist. Escapist can be okay and challenging is okay, too. We can be allowed to do a mix of both.

Also, books and stories can important and useful at varying times of life. For example, I did not get Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy as a kid and it’s a children’s book. As an adult, when Aslan says, “‘Child,’ said the Lion, ‘I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own,’” it had a profound effect on me. I was reminded me to be more compassionate for people and to try to listen to their stories. But maybe I shouldn’t have read that kids book.

You can do both. I love YA books AND Henry James even though the New Yorker doesn’t seem to think that’s possible. I am a possible person; I contain literary multitudes. Let’s not be so policing of our reading and remember to every thing there is a season.

Speaking of seasons, here’s another reminder from Ecclesiastes: there’s nothing new under the sun. We’ve been having this high/low culture debate and fear-mongering for pretty much all of time. It’s a fallacy that “now” is any worse than any other time for our level of intelligence, crime, culture, or whatever the “kids these days” do. It’s all old. The world has always been kind of crap and we’ve always had to grapple with that. Humanity has a range of the despicable to the divine, the thoughtful and intelligent, and the exceedingly stupid. Everything has happened before and will happen again. Get over it, and move on.

For another view especially addressing adults reading YA or Children’s books, here’s Sarah Burnes in the Paris Review blog: The binary between children’s and adult fiction is a false one, based on a limited conception of the self. I have not ceased to be the person I was when I was an adolescent; in fact, to think so seems to me like a kind of dissociation from a crucial aspect of one’s self. And the critic should be concerned with what is good and what is bad, what is art and what is not—not with what’s “appropriate.”

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The post-summer reading “lull”

Now that Summer Reading is over and the lull after summer reading is over, it’s into Planning Time now. Yup, Capital Letter-type Planning. Since we don’t start our regularly schedule programs until October, September has been a bit of a catch up month. I feel like I barely did any collection development during July and August, and I definitely wasn’t thinking about fall programming or spring. I was just trying to get through the next five programs we had that week! So busy!

So now Clare and I have been talking about and working on all sorts of things: outreach to some community groups like the youth center in town and the Andover chapter of A Better Chance which seems like a really cool program; collection development is back in a more regular rotation; trying to think ahead to Teen Read Week; working on some small Banned Books programming for the end of the month; kicking around the idea of a regional Comic-con with some other libraries; the Teen Poetry Contest in the spring; our VolunTeen Advisory Board; and more.

I’m the most excited about the prospect of a library Comic-Con. As you may know I’m pretty nerdy. And, as evidenced by the popularity of our Random Fandom Summer Reading program, so are a lot of our teens. I mean nerdy in a really good way! They have books, shows, movies, games, and more that they really like and get really excited about. I think that’s awesome. It would be so fun to host a longer program, like on a Saturday, which times for gaming, cosplay, trivia, crafts, and demonstrations all related to different fandoms and interests. It’d be like Random Fandom Lite!

I already have a costume for Comic-Con! A variant Starbuck from BSG who actually looks exactly like me! Brilliant! (Also pictured, Little Red Riding Hood and Where's Ralph Waldo Emerson?)

I already have a costume for Comic-Con! A variant Starbuck from BSG who actually looks exactly like me! Brilliant! (Also pictured, Little Red Riding Hood and Where’s Ralph Waldo Emerson?)

Even more exciting than the prospect of a Merrimack Valley Comic-Con is another program a few of us are working on: library-hosted pub trivia! It’s the dream! We are investigating options of hosting it in the library (with no alcohol, sadly) or at a restaurant nearby in town. Hopefully we could bring in that hard to get demographic of real world Young Adults (the ones in the 20s and 30s) and show them the library is cool! Or maybe not “cool.” Is “cool” cool anymore? I don’t know. Just get them into the library.

Other than planning, I’ve been having a good time checking out the #fyaphotoaday Instagram project put on by Forever Young Adult. Lots of fun and lots of pretty bookshelves!

What are your Septembers like? Busy with back to school or do you get a little break to enjoy the cooling weather?


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Candy Sushi – I could have done it better

I had my candy sushi program this week and it was fun! There was a lot of prep the weekend before and the morning of like going to the store to buy the candy. Side note: it took me about 15 minutes of wandering the store looking for fruit roll-ups for the “seaweed” to go around the sushi rolls. I finally had to ask. Babyfood aisle. Of course. Sigh.

My examples for the teens.

My examples for the teens.

So here’s the whole process. Make a batch of rice krispie treats the regular way but instead of putting them in a 9″ x 13″ pan as you usually might do, spread them out to be about a half an inch thick onto a wax paper covered cookie sheet. (I made three batches and I’m glad that I did because I had 17 teens there! 17!) Then assemble your candy. I had Twizzlers, Swedish fish, Mike & Ikes, and fruit rollups. To make the rolls I cut up strips of rice krispie treat about 2″ by 6″. Then to make one kind of sushi, I put a Twizzler in the middle, rolled it up, then rolled it up again in a sheet of fruit roll-ups, and then sliced it into little sushi rounds! Cute! I also did similar things with Mike & Ikes in the middle. Then I made little rectangles of rice krispie, put a Swedish fish on top, and wrapped fruit roll-up “seaweed” like a belt around it. Those were the cutest.

But how could I have done it better? To have more options, less time, or more structure in the program. If I had more supplies the teens could have been even more creative and taken the sushi to a higher level of crazy – which I like. Or make the program less time because I had a hard time filling the time I did have. Finally, it I had a more structured program, for example with a challenge or contest or something like that, it would give another goal for the teens. That’s one thing I need to constantly remind myself of. These teens like and need structure. Most of them are middle schoolers so they aren’t necessarily to the point in high school where you realize you can be a bit more rebellious or free and do what you want. They kind of like to be told what to do, at least that has been my experience so far.

Some teen creations

Some teen creations

It was still a good program, I just keep thinking about how it could be better!

Also, I was just talking about books I read growing up that I probably wouldn’t recommend to a teen now because of their content: hello, Kushiel’s Dart trilogy! I distinctly remembering reading one of the books in Advanced Biology senior year of high school and getting all stammery and weird when a classmate asked me what it was about. “Ummmmm,  it’s fantasy?” I squeaked. That’s what you get when you read sci-fi/fantasy/erotica in high school. Or the books that I wasn’t allowed to read as a child because Mom thought they would scare me, like The Witch of Blackberry Pond. I tried telling her it won the Newbery, but I had to return it to my school library heartbroken. Anyway, this was all to say there’s another great article about age appropriate books over at XOJane. s.e. smith writes the best articles about YA. Check it out.

Finally, I had a post up at the Hub this week where I get huffy and tell people to go read YA, all while using the word “apologia.” It’s really a win-win. Go read that, too!


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