Books That Are a Breath of Fresh Air

I’m 33 weeks into my pregnancy, so I’m entering the lovely stage where I’m uncomfortable all the time and am finding it difficult to breathe. I was sitting on the couch reading my book, taking yet another deep breath, and thought, “I should write a post about books that are a breath of fresh air.” Since I’m often winded, I think it’s fitting 😉

I’ve included these books for a variety of reasons. I considered the way topics were approached, the way characters are written, the way authors deviated from the norm, etc. Which books would you add to this list?

Winger by Andrew Smith–Ryan Dean’s story was the first book I thought of because of how Andrew Smith wrote him. I’ve taught quite a few fourteen-year-old boys over the past seven years. Ryan Dean is written exactly like a fourteen-year-old boy and I love that. Too often characters are written with adult voices and that’s not the case for Ryan. I think it’s one of the many reasons why Winger has been such a hit with both my underclassmen and upperclassmen.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White–Paranormal YA is nothing new and Kiersten White’s debut has been out since 2010, but I still think it’s a nice change from the typical paranormal fare. Evie, the main character, isn’t busy pining away over some guy in her biology class. She’s working for the International Paranormal Containment Agency and prides herself on doing her job well. She’s pretty and girly and there is a love angle to the story, but it’s also funny and witty and original.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray–I’m more than halfway through the audio and can’t begin to explain how much I love this book. I’m purposely taking my time listening to it because it’s that good. And honestly, I could go on and on about why this book is such a breath of fresh air. The satire is spot on. The list of big issues being tackled in a very smart way is impressive. It’s simply a great book.

Party by Tom Leveen–By no fault of their own, teenagers are very self-centered. Yes, they think about others and do amazing things for others, but much of being a teenager is about figuring out who you are and worrying about yourself. The reason I say this, and I don’t mean any of that in a negative way, is because I don’t think a teen will necessarily think about every single person at a party (or in a classroom) and what their individual story is. Or how stories and paths might cross. Tom Leveen addresses this in Party. We are taken to a party and see that party through the eyes of eleven characters. We see how their paths cross and what’s really going on with each individual. It’s eye-opening for many of my students and has made them think more about others and what other people are going through.

I Know It’s Over by C.K. Kelly Martin–There are plenty of YA books that deal with teen pregnancy, but not many that I  know of–other than Jumping Off Swings and Living With Jackie Chan–that are told from the father’s perspective. I had mixed feelings overall about this book, but it was still refreshing to read about how Nick deals with the unsettling news that his ex-girlfriend is pregnant and what she plans to do about it. This is also a book that I’ve had to replace every year since I originally bought it three years ago.

But I Love Him by Amanda Grace–Another common story told in YA is about abusive relationships. When my students read books about that they often tell me when they would leave and how they would never put up with a relationship like that. I’m always happy to hear that, but I also know from other students that it’s not always that simple. What I love about this book is that it isn’t told in chronological order. Because of this, there isn’t an easy spot for a reader to say, “I would have left him then.” It’s given a number of my students pause after reading it.

Every Day by David Levithan–I don’t know if I really need to explain why I’m including this book. I haven’t read anything else like it which makes it really difficult to help my students find a new book to read when they finish this and want something else like it.

My Life After Now by Jessica Verdi–Jessica Verdi’s debut made the list because of the topic she wrote about. For some this may be a spoiler, but like I stated in my review, I think it will draw in more readers if you know what the character’s dilemma is. Lucy, the main character, contracts HIV. I haven’t read or heard of any other YA novels that feature a character getting or living with HIV, so that’s why I included this title.

Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon–Cancer books. There are SO MANY. And they often make a reader ugly cry which is one of the reasons I typically avoid them. This is not that book. Hollis Seamon’s debut made me snort with laughter and look at hospice and cancer in a very different way. One of my seniors read this and told me that he felt guilty for laughing so much. I laughed quite a few times, although a few scenes invoked tears. But would else is there to expect from a book about a teen who has terminal cancer?

Audiobook Review: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible BeautyTitle: A Great and Terrible Beauty

Author: Libba Bray

Narrator: Josephine Bailey

Publisher: Simon & Schuster / Listening Library (audio)

Release Date: December 9th, 2003 (book) / January 16th, 2004 (audio)

Interest: Historical fiction / Supernatural / Author

Source: Audio borrowed from the library

Summary (From Goodreads):

It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?

Audio Review: At first the audio sounded a little robotic and canny, but after a short while I didn’t notice that anymore.  I ended up enjoying Josephine Bailey as the narrator, but I did think she sounded a little old to be acting as the voice of a sixteen year old girl.  Listening to Libba Bray’s beautiful writing out loud was quite a treat, however.

Book Review: A while back I posted about reading gaps and trying to read more historical fiction, which is one reason why I chose to read A Great and Terrible Beauty.  I like that this is historical fiction with a supernatural twist because it opens up the audience a little bit when I make book recommendations to my students.  I also decided to read this because I’ve only read The Diviners by Libba Bray and one of my good friends was reading and really enjoying it.

For the most part I liked A Great and Terrible Beauty.  I like Gemma’s character, I like the setting, and I like the plot.  But my feelings don’t stretch much beyond like.

This is the beginning of the Gemma Doyle trilogy, so I understand the amount of plot development taking place, but the story didn’t move fast enough.  There wasn’t enough happening to really keep me interested in the story.  The spiritual world is interesting, but too much time was spent building it up instead of getting into the dangers and the “what’s really going on” part of the story.

Like I said, I like Gemma’s character.  The other girls, however, aren’t developed enough.  The girls fall into the overdone roles of dull and boring, power hungry, beautiful and misunderstood, etc.  I wanted more from these girls.  Considering that A Great and Terrible Beauty is written in third person, I thought I would have known them more.  Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

I noticed these two issues when I read The Diviners.  I really like the story and the setting for that book, but again, I finished without knowing the characters well enough and the story was all over the place.  I’m afraid to give up on Libba Bray, but I’m starting to think maybe she isn’t an author for me.  Her writing is beautiful and vivid, and I know plenty of people who love her stories, but maybe I’m simply not her intended audience.

Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

Title: The Diviners

Author: Libba Bray

Publisher:Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release Date: September 18th, 2012

Interest: Historical Fiction / Supernatural / Ghosts

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads): Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City–and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult–also known as “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.”
When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer–if he doesn’t catch her first.

I’ve never read any of Libba Bray’s books before, but after watching the trailer for her newest book, The Diviners, I knew I had to read it.  The 1920s is one of my favorite time periods, and I love a good ghostly mystery.  It’s exciting when books like The Diviners release in the fall because the setting and tone fits the fall weather perfectly, especially if you choose to read this on a dark, stormy night 😉

In a nutshell, I enjoyed The Diviners and I’ll read the sequel.  The story is engaging, and the characters are interesting.  Unfortunately, the writing itself kept me from enjoying Libba Bray’s new novel as much as I hoped to.

My first roadblock was Evie’s constant 1920s slang.  It’s important to make the language fit the time period when writing historical fiction, but the heavy use left me with the impression that Bray wanted to show she did research.  When it becomes that distracting, then it’s not done very well.  Evie uses the slang the most, which fits her character wanting to be a Flapper; she’s trendy, vivacious, and energetic.

The biggest roadblock is the constant jump from character to character.  I love reading novels with multiple points of view; I love reading novels written in third person which switch between characters.  Libba Bray included too many characters and didn’t write them cohesively.  The Diviners would have benefited from a set up like Neal Shusterman’s Unwind where each character jump is marked by a section header with the character’s name.  While reading I had a better understanding and visual of the setting than the characters, so it was hard to figure out right away which character was the new focus.  Considering the amount of details written into the story, I expected to have a better picture of Evie.  I kept picturing her like a little girl, not an older teenager.  Think Shirley Temple.  Maybe it’s how naive she is, or because so many people around her keep treating her like a child, but I had a really hard time visualizing her.  The only character I could picture clearly was Memphis and he has significantly fewer scenes than Evie.  I found Memphis and his brother Isiah to be two of the most interesting characters in The Diviners.

On a more positive note, the suspense and mystery is excellent in The Diviners.  So many scenes had me holding me breath and racing to get to the next page.  I love it when an author builds up the suspense like that because it keeps me reading and engaged.  The degree of creepiness is perfect.  None of the scenes are too graphic (for me) and they’re not too scary either.  Libba Bray has included an excellent blend of creepy, mystery, and humor.

Even though the writing didn’t work out as well for me as I wanted it to, I still think The Diviners is worth reading.  It’s awfully long at over 570 pages, so some of my students may be wary of reading it.  I hope the second book cuts down on the overwritten scenes and is clearer when switching characters.  I especially hope to learn more about what the purpose of the Diviners is going to be.  We met them, and we know their abilities, but it will be great to know how they might all come together.

Book Pairing: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Book Trailer Thursday (76)–Nighttime Ninja & The Diviners

Both of the book trailers I’m featuring today come from Little, Brown!  I know many of my readers work with elementary and middle school students, so I wanted to include a cute book trailer aimed at that audience.  I’ve never heard of Nighttime Ninja before, but it sure does sound good!  I also have the recently released trailer for Libba Bray’s newest book, The Diviners.  Have any of you been lucky enough to read it yet?  If so, what did you think?

Both books release on September 18th, 2012.

As always, I’d love to know what you think of the book trailers! 🙂

Summary of Nighttime Ninja (From Goodreads): Late at night, when all is quiet and everyone is asleep, a ninja creeps silently through the house in search of treasure. Soon he reaches his ultimate goal…and gets a big surprise! Will the nighttime ninja complete his mission?

With spare text and lush illustrations, Nighttime Ninja is a fun, adventure-filled story about the power of play and imagination.

 

Summary of The Diviners (From Goodreads): Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City–and she is pos-i-toot-ly thrilled. New York is the city of speakeasies, shopping, and movie palaces! Soon enough, Evie is running with glamorous Ziegfield girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is Evie has to live with her Uncle Will, curator of The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult–also known as “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies.”

When a rash of occult-based murders comes to light, Evie and her uncle are right in the thick of the investigation. And through it all, Evie has a secret: a mysterious power that could help catch the killer–if he doesn’t catch her first.

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