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Posts from October 2012

Yesterday: C.K. Kelly Martin

Book: Yesterday
Author: C.K. Kelly Martin (@ckkellymartin)
Pages: 368
Age Range: 14 and up 

I became interested in reading C.K. Kelly Martin's Yesterday after reading a joint review by Presenting Lenore and Galleysmith. When a copy of the book showed up on my doorstep, I moved it up high on my stack (despite what I personally thought was a rather unappealing cover). And I'm glad that I did. I found Yesterday fascinating on multiple levels. It's a bit difficult to describe and review without spoilers, but I shall do my best.

Yesterday begins with a brief, 6-page prologue set in a the future. The first-person narrator, Freya, is trapped in a forcefield-protected room, traumatized by something that's happened to her brother, Latham. Then the SecRos, humanoid robots, come for Freya and her mother, on her father's orders. She loses consciousness.

The next thing the reader knows, Freya is a teenager living in 1985, mourning the tragic death of her diplomat father in Australia. She has just moved with her mother and younger sister to the Toronto suburbs, and is nervous about starting a new school. She remembers her 1970's childhood, and a seems to know the things that are expected to her. But something is off for Freya. She feels disconnected with her own life. And when she sees a boy on the street who she is sure she knows, and knows well, even though she can't remember him, Freya is off on a dangerous quest to understand her past, and her future. 

The prologue leaves the reader with a suspicion about what must be happening, but things don't really become clear until later in the book. For a while, it's almost just a story of a girl adjusting to a new school, making friends, and meeting boys. This makes Yesterday an unusual mix of 1980's John Hughes novel and bleak dystopia, liberally sprinkled with a 1980's new wave soundtrack. As a dystopia aficionado who was in high school in the 1980's, this mix is irresistible.

Yesterday is the kind of book that you wonder about every time you put it down. How did Freya get to 1985 Toronto? Why did someone send her there? And lots more. The last part of the book, when many of the secrets become clear, is thought-provoking and suspenseful. There is a pretty strong environmental message to Yesterday, but for the most part, the message doesn't overwhelm the story. It certainly makes a person think about global warming and such.

C.K. Kelly Martin's writing is clear and to the point. Yesterday isn't full of flag-worthy, lyrical passages (as was Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys). But that's ok. It's like the writing stays out of the way of the story, if that makes any sense. Freya's first-person, present-tense voice is realistic, in the use of contractions, etc., but without any dialect or particularly distinctive voice patterns. Like this:

"The dark-haired boy haunts me in the car trip with my grandfather and once we're home he haunts me throughout my mom's rant about the school being neglectful and irresponsible in abandoning me at the museum. When my mother says she'll call tomorrow and let them know leaving me in Toronto to fend for myself was totally unacceptable, I don't argue."  (Page 54)

Freya's voice feels neither strongly 80's to me nor strongly futuristic, which allows the reader to stay focused on the action, without distraction. And there is plenty of action to be found. Just as a note for librarians, there is also some fairly detailed, almost-sex in the book. It's probably better at the high school than the middle school level. 

Overall, I found Yesterday to be compelling and thought-provoking. I spent my weekend snatching moments during which I could read it. I quite liked the ending, and continue to ponder some of the questions raised by the book. I recommend Yesterday for dystopia fans of all ages (14 and up), but it offers a special treat for those who came of age in the 1980's (or just love first wave music). Although Yesterday is (apparently) a standalone novel, I kind of wish that it was the start of a series, so that I could visit Freya's world again. 

Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Links I Shared on Twitter This Week: October 5

Here are some highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage.

Ten Most Challenged Books of 2011 via @tashrow at Waking Brain Cells #BannedBooksWeek

Don't miss The Brown Bookshelf's Call for Submissions for their annual 28 Days Later campaign for Black History Month

Ready for Success: Creating Collaborative and Thoughtful Transitions into Kindergarten | new from @hfrp #literacy

RT @sljournal: KidLitCon 2012: Critical Reviewing in the Age of Twitter #kidlit

Leila's take on #Kidlitcon 2012 in New York City @bkshelvesofdoom

RT @rifweb: Fall into a new month of reading activities! Check out the Oct 2012 RIF Reading Calendars - English & Spanish

Have you seen the very cute book trailer for THE CHICKEN PROBLEM by Jennifer Oxley + Billy Aronson?  @RandomHouseKids

Guys Lit Wire: Budget Cuts in DC Schools Mean We Step Up to Help Ballou SR High #literacy #BookFair

RT @motherreader: Perfect summary! RT @catagator On the blog, a recap (with pictures!) of KidLitCon 2012

Jane Addams Children's Book Award Award Ceremony details, Oct. 19 in NYC via @MitaliPerkins

RT @tashrow: "If you have to pay for a good review, you shouldn’t be a writer."

RT @tashrow: JK Rowling’s next book ‘very likely’ to be a children’s book | Children’s books |

Plus a whole slew of links around the fact that nominations for the 2012 Cybils opened on October 1st. Best to go straight to the source: the Cybils website

Similarly, I shared a bunch of other links to recaps of #KidLitCon12 (the sixth annual conference of children's and young adult book bloggers), too many to include here. If you are interested in KidLitCon, I recommend this twitter search

And that's all for this week. But you can always find me sharing literacy and reading news on Twitter @JensBookPage.

This post © 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Professor Gargoyle: Charles Gilman

Book: Professor Gargoyle (Lovecraft Middle School, Book 1)
Author: Charles Gilman
Pages: 160
Age Range: 9-12 

Professor Gargoyle is the first book in the new Lovecraft Middle School horror series from Quirk Books. Although set in a middle school, it's actual a quick middle grade read, one that I think will appeal to dormant / reluctant readers. 

Robert is the only one of his friends to be assigned to the brand new Lovecraft Middle School. He thinks that his biggest problems will be finding someone to sit with at lunch, and staying out of bully Glenn's way. However, he soon discovers a stairway to a mysterious old attic (one that makes no sense at all as part of Lovecraft Middle School), an intelligent two-headed rat, and a teacher who isn't what he appears. And then things really get weird. 

Professor Gargoyle has an eye-catching cover, one of those ones that changes depending on what angle you hold the book at. You see the professor as a regular older teacher, or as a demon. It's pretty cool. (Ms. Yingling called it the best part of the book). I do think it may make younger kids pick up the book (though it may also make adult readers NOT pick up the book). There are also a few interior black and white illustrations, keeping the book reader-friendly for young readers.

The plotting in Professor Gargoyle is fast-paced and action-filled, with opportunities for kids to show bravery and cleverness. I thought that the resolution of Robert's relationship with Glenn happened a bit quickly, but relationship dynamics are hardly the point of the book. 

Here are a couple of examples of Gilman's prose:

"Up until this moment, Robert's life had been fairly quiet and ordinary. He had the same interests and hobbies as a million other twelve-year-old boys. He spent his days in school; he spent his nights doing homework and messing around on the computer. He'd never experienced anything that might have prepared him for a swarm of wild rats." (Page 19)

"Robert approached a round wooden table in the center of the room. On its surface was an open book, facedown. Robert shuddered. The book's spine appeared to be an actual spine--the bright white vertebrae of what might be a snake or lizard." (Page 43)

I like how the author says relatively deadpan, even when introducing fantastical elements. He does, however, occasionally tell instead of showing ("... everyone in the class listened without protest. They understood that Mr. Loomis was simply frustrated, that he was trying to prevent a terrible thing from happening again."). Still, I think that the storyline will appeal to fans of horror stories. 

The next book in the series, The Slither Sisters, is due out in January. While this series isn't going to be for everyone, I do think that librarians will want to add it to their arsenal. 

Publisher: Quirk Books (@QuirkBooks)
Publication Date: September 25, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

The Raven Boys: Maggie Stiefvater

Book: The Raven Boys
Author: Maggie Stiefvater (@mstiefvater)
Pages: 416
Age Range: 12 and up 

I am a huge fan of Maggie Stiefvater's writing. I first read and reviewed her novels Ballad and Lament, and then became utterly obsessed with her Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy (Shiver, Linger, and Forever). I had a bit of trouble getting into last year's The Scorpio Races, for some reason (though my husband enjoyed it). But when The Raven Boys, the first book in Stiefvater's new Raven Cycle, landed on my doorstep, I started reading it immediately. And I was not disappointed.

The Raven Boys is set in the small town of Henrietta, Virginia. Blue Sargent lives with her psychic mother and aunts. Blue has no clairvoyant abilities herself, but she does seem to have some quality that makes other people's abilities stronger whenever she is near.

Blue has always stayed away from the arrogant boys from the local prep school, Aglionby (the students are known as the Raven Boys). However, when Blue sees her first ghost, a sort of premonition regarding a living Raven Boy named Gansey, she finds herself drawn into Gansey's world. Gansey is determined to uncover a powerful magical secret that he believes lies in Henrietta, with the help of his three best friends. And,eventually, Blue.

I read The Raven Boys relatively slowly, because I kept having to stop and flag insightful and/or beautiful passages. Stiefvater is just such a fabulous writer. Her characters in The Raven Boys (especially Blue and Gansey) are unconventional yet fully three-dimensional. Her plotting is complex, with viewpoints shifting between several characters, and secrets parcelled out gradually over the course of the book. Her settings are vividly depicted, and (sometimes) delightfully strange. But still, Maggie Stiefvater is an author that I read because she just wows me over and over again with her prose. Like this:

"Maura had decided sometime before Blue's birth that it was barbaric to order children about, and so Blue had grown up surrounded by imperative question marks." (Page 6)

"Gansey had once told Adam that he was afraid most people didn't know how to handle Ronan. What he meant by this was that he was worried that one day someone would fall on Ronan and cut themselves." (Page 38)

"Sleep deprivation made his life an imaginary thing, his days a ribbon floating aimlessly in water." (Page 97)

"... something about the scene made Gansey feel strange, like he'd heard an unpleasant statement and later forgotten everything about the words but the way they had made him feel." (Page 201)

One thing that I enjoyed in particular about The Raven Boys was that it's not as much of a romance as Stiefvater's other books. Oh, there's a hint of a triangle going on between Blue and two of the Raven Boys. But Blue actively dislikes Gansey to start with. And because of a sort of a curse that her psychic mother believes she is under, she's afraid to kiss any boy (a prophecy that if she kisses her true love, she'll kill him). This keeps any romantic interactions quite PG, for the duration of this first book, anyway. There is some degree of longing (which Stiefvater is very good at), but things are handled with a soft touch.

I personally found this refreshing, in comparison to many YA paranormals out there today. Which is not to say that this is a tame book - there are multiple fights, multiple deaths, and incidents of domestic violence. I suspect, too, that Stiefvater will ratchet up the intensity in future books. But still, it's nice to see a book carried along by plot, theme, and character, rather than by the romance.

I recommend The Raven Boys for anyone (12 and up) who appreciates top-quality writing, male or female. Stiefvater fans will certainly not want to miss it. And readers who haven't encountered her work yet are in for a treat. New Line has already acquired the movie rights to The Raven Boys, so this is a book that we'll be hearing about for quite a while. Highly recommended.

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: September 18, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Quick Hits

Just a few tidbits that I didn't think could wait:

Great times in the Kidlitosphere.

On a personal note, I achieved a small book-related milestone this weekend. I was able to get my daughter (age 2 1/2) to sit and read on her own in her "little reading spot" while I sat nearby on the daybed with my own book. Alas, this happy state only lasted about 2 minutes. But still, we're moving in the right direction. I take my commitment to "model reading" seriously.

This post © 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

This Is Not My Hat: Jon Klassen

Book: This Is Not My Hat
Author: Jon Klassen (@burstofbeaden)
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3 and up

This Is Not My Hat is a companion book to Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back. I wouldn't call it a sequel, because the characters are different, but the storyline is similar. A small fish is swimming along and admits "This is not my hat." We learn that the small fish stole the hat from a big fish. But he's not worried, because the big fish probably won't even notice, and even if he does, he won't be able to find the small fish. Right? But even as we see the small fish's brave words, we also see the reactions of the big fish. Muted but clear, as he turns his eye upward to note his empty head, and then narrows his eye in annoyance, as he steams forward to look for the hat. The end, well, the end will not come as a surprise to those who read the first book.

I think that having read (and loved) the first book does take away from this one, a little. It's pretty clear all along that the small fish is not going to succeed in his quest to keep the hat. But that's part of the humor of This Is Not My Hat, too. Reading the confident words of the small fish, but seeing in the illustrations how misguided he is. I'm not sure that my two-year-old is mature enough to appreciate the humor, but I think that This Is Not My Hat will have four-year-olds rolling on the floor with laughter.

Klassen has a real flair for getting emotions across with minimal illustrations (and minimal text, for that matter). Four illustrations in a row differ only in the big fish's eyes, and the bubbles coming from his mouth. But this is enough to tell a whole story. I think the funniest page is one in which the text reads "So I am not worried about that" (in reference to anyone telling the big fish where the small fish went), above a picture of a wide-eyed lobster pointing the way for the angry big fish. I challenge anyone not to let out a little snort of laughter.

This Is Not My Hat is a must-add title for libraries, and for households where I Want My Hat Back was a hit. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: October 9, 2012
Source of Book: Finished review copy from the publisher

© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).