Month: December 2008

17 Dec 2008

A Wreath For Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson

XIV. A Wreath For Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson

Poetry, like Juvenile fiction, self help books, and mass market romance novels, is something I just don’t find myself reading a lot of. However, I did come across a few notable books this year, all of which fall under the category of Young Adult. The first? A Wreath For Emmett Till.

History Refresher Course: Emmett Till was a fourteen-year-old African American boy from Chicago. On a vacation to visit relatives in the Deep South of Mississippi, he reportedly spoke inappropriately to a white woman in a store. Four days later, he was beaten and murdered, his body sunk into the Tallahatchie Rver.

This book is a collection of poems. To be specific, it is a heroic crown of sonnets in Petrarchan rhyme scheme. Maybe some of you know what that means, but it’s a complicated and highly structured form of poetry to be sure. The poems draw from Emmett Till’s life, the events that lead up to his murder, and the aftermath. His mother insisted on an open casket, to show the world the level of brutality that occured to her son, and this event helped to launch the Civil Rights movement. Needless to say, these poems warrant repeat readings, and will most likely move you. Don’t believe me? Ask the Prinz committee.

Buy this for: students of Civil Rights Movement classes or girls who read too many Shakesperean sonnets for their own good.

Amazon Link | NPR Interview & Excerpt

17 Dec 2008

I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder

When Sonya Sones published the ever-popular, What My Mother Doesn’t Know, I read it and thought to my 16-year-old self, Dang, these are going to get POPULAR. And by these, I mean, of course, novels in verse. Different from a collection of poetry, novels-in-verse are usually told from the POV of a character, tend to be more linear, and focus slightly more on content rather than form. In my extremely amateur opinion, of course.

I Heart You, You Haunt Me is a delectable combination of light fantasy and poetry. The story begins with a tragedy. The boy Ava thought she’d be with forever, Jackson, is dead. An accident. Ava is heartbroken and confused and sad. So when Jackson starts coming to her room when no one else is around, talking to her and comforting her, she doesn’t know if she’s haunted, lucky, or just a little crazy. Ava works through her emotions over the loss of her boyfriend while struggling with what to do about the boyfriend she still appears to have. This is a unique read, and one you’ll have trouble putting down.

Buy this for: 13-15 year-old romantics, girls who might just be a *little* too young for Twilight but still want to ache along with someone like them, or your cousin who keeps telling you that ghosts are haunting her attic. Bonus points for paring it with the brand-spanking-new Far From You.

Lisa Schroeder Online | Lisa’s Most Excellent Blog | Amazon Link

14 Dec 2008

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

I’m not sure I can muster up much to say about this book. I can tell you a cute story about how I came to have this book in my hands: I put it on hold at my library, therefore forcing the person who was currently reading it to bring it back in a timely manner. At the same time, someone pulled the same stunt on me, with The Luxe. I sighed loudly and said, “FINE, I’m not going to read this right now, so you can have it back.” I printed out the hold slip and saw it was requested by one of the pages who shelve books at my library. I slid the book into her mailbox, and a few hours later, she approached me at my desk, holding the copy of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao she was also forced to return.

Anyway. Along with deciding to read more classics, at some point I decided I needed to read more of Those Books That Everyone Talks About. This was at the top of Every Important List. I first opened it while sitting in a traffic jam on I-94. Eastbound.

The first character you meet in Diaz’s ever-broadening world is Oscar, an overweight, sci-fi fanatic living in Jersey with his Dominican mother and alternately wild-child and academic princess of a sister. The book branches off in various directions, most of which are narrated by an amusing yet unnamed narrator. Some chapters follow Oscar through high school and onto college. Some stories shadow Oscar’s sister through the difficulties of balancing love and life and family. And many stories take us to the source – the Dominican Republic. Stories not only of Oscar’s mother as a girl, but of her parents. Of Dominican folklore and political history. Of both Oscar and her sister as they make private sojourns to their homeland. This is part of the genius of this book, I believe. You never know who will be telling the story or where the story will take you, but I was always interested to see where I was going. The relationships between characters run deeper than the reader can possibly discern from a single reading, and Oscar, the character to whom the book returns to again and again, slowly crawls his way from socially awkward teenager to socially awkward but semi-heroic man.

This is a seriously good book. Ask the folks who hand out Pulitzers.

Buy this for: Big Readers who don’t shy away from a challege, those with affinites for adult books that feature young adult characters, and anyone with a taste for Magical Realism.

Bookslut Interview | NPR Interview | Junot Diaz Online | Amazon Link

13 Dec 2008

Chiggers by Hope Larson

I hope the title of this book won’t send anyone screaming. I mean, it sounds like a gruesome, B Movie about some mutant bugs to me. But just look at the cover! It’s obviously not frightening – it’s a book about summer camp.

Did any of you guys go to summer camp? I did. Willingly. For six consecutive summers. And just like the camp that Hope Larson draws, my summer camp was full of rituals, friendships, and that freeing sensation that you are A) away from your parents and B) away from civilization. Oh, but it’s also full of gossip and pettiness and, of course, boys.

I enjoyed this book for its nostalgia, for its delicate portrayal of the middle school girl psyche (which is often completely stereotyped in books designed for them – anyone read Clique?), and as a simple, summer story. The illustrations are a blend of realism and that thick outlined cartoonish style that I’m so very fond of.

Buy this book for: the thoughtful 11-13 year old girl in your life. It’s a rare find – a book mature enough for an avid reader, but without the brand name dropping or sex-craziness that scares off parents.

Hope Larson Online | Hope’s Blog | Amazon Link

13 Dec 2008

Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi

Raise your hand if you’ve read Persepolis 1. None of you?!?!? Please do yourself a favor, X this window and get thee to your local library and/or independent bookstore. Except for you, Lindsey Woho, of course. And perhaps Betsy. Or my mom.

Anyway. This book is, indeed, a sequel. In the same vein as Craig Thompson’s Blankets or to an extend, Art Speigelman’s Maus and Maus II, this is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir. The first volume is the growing up – little Marjane learns to survive in an increasingly totalitarian Iran, wearing her veil to elementary school but coming home to a pair of revolutionary parents. This book picks up with a teenaged Marjane, and due to the increasing violence in her hometown of Tehran, she is no longer living in Iran, but at a boarding school in Austria.

While Persepolis 1 was more about the changing Iranian culture around Marjane, this volume was more about her coming of age. Marjane is living on her own, in a country far from her parents. Things don’t go as planned. Roommates leave, landladies are crazy, and boys lead her down mistaken paths. She returns to Tehran a woman, but hasn’t yet challenged all her demons. Marjane has many of the same issues any young woman faces – should I marry my boyfriend? should I get another degree? – but with Iran under increasingly sexist control, she has to learn to play the system as well.

Buy This Book For: your mom (my mom loved it!), your sexy-intellectual girlfriend, your sister who just enrolled in her first Women’s Studies course. You can buy a paperback version that binds both volumes together. Or bonus! Give it to your favorite foreign film buff, along with the Academy Award nominated film!

BookSlut interview | Amazon Link

13 Dec 2008

Blankets by Craig Thompson

This book has earned a very special place in my heart, because yes, this was the first graphic novel I ever read. My mother brought it home for me when I was still a teenager, and the whole “Graphic Novel” thing was just catching on in libraries and bookstores. It was (and still is) a fat, fat book. I’m sure I avoided it for awhile, but I remember opening it in my living room one summer afternoon and closing it that same day.

It’s definitely one of those turn-last-page-then-hug-book-to-chest-and-sigh kind of reads.

The plot is not terribly complex or involved. It’s a coming of age story. A memoir, actually. Craig grows up in a cold home, in a cold state. He finds a safe haven in God, and in drawing, but social success eludes him. Until a disappointing trip to church camp leads him to Raina, the girl who turns it all upside down.

Open this one if you’re in the mood for some love, some pain, some beautiful drawings.

Craig’s blog | Review on Powells | Amazon Link

12 Dec 2008

The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer

Okay, so I *might* have alluded to the notion that I hate “my childhood sucked” type memoirs. Then why on earth did I pick up this book, and, more operatively, why was I so surprised by the story I found? Maybe it was the book cover, or a Hook-The-Reader type description somewhere, but I thought this was going to be a memoir about a kid who literally grew up in a bar. I mean, what kind of parent brings their kid into a bar? However, this is not the story I found, and I found myself pleasantly surprised.

J.R. Moehringer grew up in Long Island. He didn’t know his father, but he could hear him on the radio, broadcasting from The City. And who needs a dad when you have beer-swilling, bar-inhabiting uncles and their gaggles of children? J.R. looked to Uncle Charlie in particular, a man who worked at Dickens, the quintessential, Cheers-esque hometown bar of his family and every person he met in Manhasset. This is the bar of yore which J.R. titles his book, and despite name changes and other monstrosities, the bar is the one constant in J.R.’s tumultuous life. He tags along to Dickens with his sunburnt uncles, takes his first drink there, recovers from heartbreak with scotch after scotch. Eventually, J.R. comes to treat the bar as he treats his family member: near to him, dear to him, but sometimes its best just to stay the hell away from them. I found J.R.’s relationship with this inanimate character to be romantic and touching. And the rest of his life story is okay too 🙂

Buy this for: Your nephew who couldn’t possibly be 21 yet but holy crap there he is, your dad who occasionally calls for a ride home from his favorite drinking establishment, or your favorite might-as-well-be-your dad Uncle.

J.R. Moehringer Online | NPR Interview | Amazon Link