Month: February 2012

29 Feb 2012

Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson

In one of my first grad classes, we read every book written by a few different authors. We read them in order. This is actually a really fun way to read, especially authors that have a lot of books and are still writing. It gives you a unique perspective on each successive book.

I had never read Jacqueline Woodson before, but in 5 weeks or so I became a veritable Woodson expert. One thing I really enjoyed about Woodson’s works is that they could be considered “issue books” or “problem novels.” Interracial relationships. Child sexual abuse. Teen pregnancy. Being in the Witness Protection Program. Foster care. Being orphaned. But the thing is, Woodson’s books never *feel* like they are books about these issues. They feel like you’re reading damn good writing.

In Beneath a Meth Moon, the issue is drug abuse. Crystal meth. Laurel is new in town, still recovering from the loss of her mother and grandmother in Hurricane Katrina. She wants to make a new friend, so she joins the cheerleading squad. She wants someone to kiss after basketball games, so she starts dating the team co-captain. She wants to feel good, feel happy, so when her new boyfriend offers her a taste of what they call Moon, she takes it, and she likes it. Not long after, she’s under its spell.

Books about teen drug use easily slip into that *PROBLEM NOVEL!!* trope. As much as I love Go Ask Alice for being ridiculous and campy and awesome, other books about teen drug abuse tend toward the Afterschool Special, or focus not on the descent but on rehab. Woodson, instead, captures Laurel’s unintentional slips, her small decisions and desires that led her down a bad path, and how her grief weaves through her every move.

As usual, Woodson’s prose is lyrical and the story slim, just under 200 pages. She flies under the popular radar sometimes, but Woodson is a proven talent. I don’t think you have to read all of her books to appreciate Beneath a Meth Moon as much as I did but once you’re done you might want to.

28 Feb 2012

birthday wish list

Friends, in twelve days I am celebrating a birthday.

I am going to be quite old, let me tell you. Quite old, indeed.

And while I have little desire to add more stuff to my life, if you, for some reason, are sitting at home and saying “Gosh, I sure want to send Jessica a present for her birthday, but I just don’t know WHAT!”, well here is an extremely short list of things that I would like.

This print by one of my favorite illustrators, Sophie Blackall. I saw another one of these long posters on the subway in NYC, and I about flipped when I heard that Blackall had one. Want!

My running shoes have a big chunk missing from the inside heel – every time I take off my shoe, bits of foam fly everywhere. Also, they smell kinda awful! I need a new pair. Plus, I read/was indoctrinated by Born to Run, so I’m now convinced that my extra-padded shoes are giving me injuries every time I run. So maybe a minimally padded number, like these fancy New Balance Minimus? Anyone?

Ever since I beat Twilight Princess, there’s been a small hole in my heart. Not that I have any time for video games…… but I want to have time for video games…. If you are reading this and want to beat it and then mail it to me *cough* DOROTHY! *cough*, then this would count as a birthday present.

I think if I had all those things, my life would be complete.

Unless anyone has a fulltime job + benefits laying around they’d like to offer, that is…

27 Feb 2012

2012: week eight

February 19 – February 25

The nice thing about being hopelessly busy is that you are forced into a groove. I like being in a groove. While I wish my current groove allowed more time for things like creative cooking, long phone calls home, being social, or laying about and reading delicious books, I am feeling semi-balanced, and the groove is certainly taking over.

I was especially impressed with how in-step things feel between The Boy and I this past week. Mutual grooves. You load, I’ll unload. You wash, I’ll fold. You play, I’ll read. I’ll drive you to work, you start dinner, we’ll meet at the gym later. What do you want to do this weekend? Why, the same things that *I* want to do this weekend! How convenient!

On Saturday, we had an errand to run south of Boston. I woke him up earlier than he would have liked because I wanted to stop by this coffee shop I’d heard so much by reading Carrots ‘N’ Cake for the past year. He said “Ugh, don’t wake me up.” I said, “I don’t care, I want some of this coffee.”

On Sunday, he picked me up from work. After the gym, we got in the car. He said:

“Would it be completely unreasonable to drive to Marylou’s right now to get some coffee?”

A well-oiled machine, I’d say.



Listening to:


  • Parks and Recreation. I was excited about this when it first aired, but I fell off the wagon. Now, it’s on Netflix, and now, everyone is like OMG PARKSANDREC every week, so I feel like I’m missing out on something. This is our “dinner-watching” show, right now. I still find it only occasionally silly. I’m hoping it will pick up.
  • The Cartel – an interesting documentary on corruption in public education, but one of those docs that doesn’t even try to act like it’s not biased as all get out. Those documentaries annoy me.
24 Feb 2012

reading wishlist – february 2012

This semester, I’ve been hit pretty hard with a case of Book Fever. I want to read everything. I haven’t kept a To-Read list in years, but since January I’ve somehow come up with 45 titles I want to check out.

It’s like my subconscious knows that in two short months, I will be able to read whatever I want for the REST. OF. MY. LIFE. Even though my conscious mind is all “Homework! Work! Reading! Schedules! Jobs!”, my subconscious is like “booooooooooooooooooooooooks.”


Here are some titles I’ve recently added to the growing stack:

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

This is the kind of book I’d usually skip over, but 1) I’ve been running a lot lately, so the title alone keeps catching my eye 2) The plot summary reminds me of a 21st century Izzy Willy Nilly (which I enjoyed reading for a children’s lit class way back in the day in undergrad) 3) Janssen called it “Quite Excellent”. That is enough convincing for me!

Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales

I think my YA lit class has given me a bit of what could be called Literary Revertigo: I’m spending a lot of time talking about what kind of books teens want to read, what they read for pleasure or relaxation, what they are interested in, etc. This is a book that Teenage Jessica would have been really into; I inexplicably really want to read it. Maybe I want to spend some time with Teenage Jessica?

The List by Siobhan Vivian

Siobhan Vivian writes books with really good hooks, I think. I am always intrigued by them but never get a chance to pick them up. This one is a multiple-narrator story about a school whose male students create a list of the prettiest and ugliest girls every year. Perhaps the above Revertigo applies here as well.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

This book came up in a class discussion last night, and the cover just beguiles me. Also, I have residual fondness for authors whose short stories I read in my undergrad creative writing classes, which includes Ms. Bender.

Jersey Angel by Beth Ann Bauman

This book is getting a lot of buzz for just being scandalously sexy for young adult fiction. If you think I can resist scandalous YA in the interest in maintaining my morals… you just don’t know me very well.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

So I know that less than 24 hours ago I said I hated dystopian trilogies. But I’m susceptible to hype, and my classmates are getting geeky about this one. So I put it on hold. But not because I am in any way supporting the dystopian trilogy as an institution.

Baby’s in Black by Arne Bellstorf

Ever since I read Elizabeth Partridge’s John Lennon: All I Want Is The Truth – which is AWESOME, in case you were wondering – I have become a bit fascinated by Beatles history. This biographical graphic novel of “The Missing Beatle,” Stuart Sutcliffe, looks like exactly the kind of graphic novel that I lurve. Plus it’s all dark and moody looking. Even though I say I like books with covers like The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, I am sometimes secretly a dark-and-moody bookcover girl.

Titanic: Voices From the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

There are a lot of books coming out this year in honor/exploitation of the 100 year anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking. This one, however, has received some good reviews and good buzz.

Or maybe I just want to relive the frenzy that was being in 7th grade when Leo sunk with the ship on the big screen. See: Revertigo.

Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers

I just really liked this cover.

And Chambers writes smart books. So there you have it.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

I just really liked this cover.

And John Green said it was good on a recent video blog which I randomly watched this morning. So there you have it.


Pssst. In the time it took me to put this post together, I already added two more books to my list! I HAVE A PROBLEM!!!



23 Feb 2012

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Once upon a time, I used to love dystopian fiction. But ever since The Hunger Games rolled into town, I haven’t been able to stomach many of them. THERE’S JUST TOO MANY! And, like the first bandwagon ever to be jumped upon, the longer the dystopian trend rolls on, the more really bad dystopias are allowed into existence. I have no desire to sift through the detritus when I’ve already read plenty that I’ve loved.

That is a bad reading attitude, but there it is. However, my syllabus occasionally beckons me back to dystopia-land. This semester, I read Divergent by Veronica Roth, which I’ve surmised is quite popular. I expected to run screaming from yet another plucky, anti-establishment teenaged protagonist, yet another set of fascist adults running the gov’ment, yet another allegory about global warming and overconsumption.

However, Divergent wasn’t all that bad. Things I liked:

  • The dystopian premise was straightforward and unique

The future in Divergent is based on a restructuring of society based on personality traits and deep belief in the benefits of certain behaviors. Inhabitants of this post-disaster-y future Chicago live in five factions. Those who live in Candor value honesty and clear motives. Members of the Erudite faction believe that knowledge is the most important asset and focus their lives on acquiring more. Amity is for the peaceful and kind, Dauntless for the brave, Abnegation for the eternally selfless. The factions keep separate living quarters but join together to go to school, run the government, and other daily-living type situations.

  • There wasn’t too much explaining

With all these strange societal divisions, the reader is left asking “Uh…. why?” And instead of over-explaining the entire history between our present and this future, Roth does a good job of letting the narrative unroll the details little by little. But more importantly, I liked how the theory behind these societal divisions naturally led the reader to reflect on how and why the changes occurred. Were the factions formed to promote each value within society – to enforce the importance of honesty, knowledge, courage, etc? Were the factions formed to ensure a balanced society, where at the very least five different worldviews are incorporated in decision-making? Or were the factions formed in opposition to each other – is one seeking to win out over the others? All of these questions are hinted at but never answered, which I think is a hallmark of a Good Dsytopia.

  • Action, romance, tension, etc

It wasn’t boring. Roth understands all that plot nonsense that keeps you flipping pages.

Things I Didn’t Like:

  • The Classic, “I just don’t fit in!” Dystopian narrator

This is probably Lois Lowry’s fault. That moment in The Giver when Jonas realizes he’s not going to move on into life like the rest of his friends? I’ve seen that moment in so many dystopian books, and it’s here in Divergent, too. I realize it’s a powerful narrative tool, but even powerful narrative tools get tired.

  • The Ending

I don’t want to spoil anything, but the ending is a bit “AND THEN ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE!” Things get suddenly out of control, violent, and mayhem-y. I didn’t feel prepared for this turn of events, and it seemed a little like a ploy to get you intrigued because….

  • It’s part of a trilogy

I. Hate. Trilogies.

I almost don’t want to read the sequels out of spite.


This has got me all riled up on the topic of dystopias. I used  to have so much love, I really did. But in my YA lit library class, we are constantly talking about Trends That Teens Like, and by golly those teens like dystopias. I have even been working on a little Pinterest board that features Dystopias with Male Protagonists (any suggestions?). I think I will have to write again on this topic again soon, but for now, I will return to Not Reading Them.

(Unless they are written by Megan McCafferty)




22 Feb 2012

three things i learned today

1. Beverly Cleary is the oldest living Newbery Award winner.

She is 95 years old.

2. Ned Vizzini has a new book coming out this year. It is sci-fi/fantasy-y… but I have been reading Mr. Vizzini since I read Teen Angst? Naaahh… in like, 1998 or something.

His new book – The Other Normals, due out in in Fall 2012 – is somewhat on the hush-hush. There’s not even a cover online.

But it does have a cover. I saw it! In the flesh! Today! Maybe I’ll even get to take it home. Who knows.

3. One my absolute favorite book series of all time has been repackaged and reissued.

So this is a great series that has been around for my entire lifespan of almost-27-years, but it has been constantly plagued by terrible covers. The characters either look way too young, way too old, way too eighties, way too nineties…

but finally, Alice McKinley has found…


Seriously. Perfect. I’m officially obsessed. I want to buy a brand new set, abandon my life’s duties, and re-read and gaze lovingly upon every cover. Julia Denos, rock on. Rock. On.

21 Feb 2012

The State of the Semester

The first quarter of the semester is now over.

Wait, correction. The first quarter OF MY LAST SEMESTER OF GRAD SCHOOL is now over.

I am busier than belief. I mean, I thought last semester took the cake, but this semester, every week goes a little like this:

Sunday – Monday – Tuesday – Wednesday – Thursday “OH MY GOD IT’S ALREADY THURSDAY? WHERE DID MONDAY-WEDNESDAY GO? – Friday “OH CRAP IT’S THE WEEKEND!” – Saturday “Why am I so tired?”

But despite all that nonsense, I am actually feeling really good about what’s going on in my life.

I do recognize that this could be my Last-Semester-of-School Nostalgia kicking in. There’s a likely chance that in May, I will lose EVERY daily activity that I have, including jobs I have had for years. Jobs that I have whined about for years, but suddenly am feeling quite affectionate toward.


Library Class #1: Information Sources for Children

In this class, we talk about nonfiction books for kids. We sit in a circle. We bring books to class and share them. We learn about access feature, discuss whether or not Arlene Sardine is fiction or non-fiction, make Helen Keller jokes (maybe that’s just me…) One of my favorite Boston friends is in class with me. My professor makes us laugh. It’s just a fairly jolly time.

Please consult me after I get my first paper back and see if I’m still feeling so giddy. But hell, it’s my last semester. Do I really care? No. No I do not.

Library Class #2: Young Adult Literature

YA Lit for the librarians. This is my first online class, and I have to say, I am digging it. It was a rough adjustment, though. The reading list? Full of books I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. The assignments? Let’s just talk about what hypothetical teens might hypothetically want to read and why they might hypothetically want to read them.

However, I like the online class format. There’s always something to do – listen to my class podcast on my way to work, make a post on our class wiki or read everyone else’s posts, chat with classmates on Twitter, make a board for new YA books on Pinterest. I And I love love LOVE my professor. She is a rock star. I am in awe. I am excited for our second group chat on Thursday!

My Internship

Is actually hard work. Opening boxes. Shelving books. Entering an interminable amount of ISBN numbers into a database.

However, this joint is such a small operation, I feel like I am actually ESSENTIAL to keeping things running. That’s nice. I am fairly involved in a lot of projects, I feel like I am getting to know a large portion of the staff… basically, I don’t feel like I am just standing around the edges watching everyone, I am in the thick of it.

And then, when I’ve had a few weeks of just straight drudgery, I come into the office and someone says “Hey, Jessica, here’s a table full of brand new books. We really want you to read some of them and give us your opinions. Just grab one and go lounge on the futon all day and go at it. Oh, and Betty Carter sent chocolates – make sure you eat some of Betty Carter’s chocolates!”

For that afternoon, it seems as if all of my dreams have come true.

Job #3

We are going in reverse chronological order here. At Job #3, I do one-on-one writing tutoring. I just started last semester, and I was all nerves and self-doubt. I’m still fairly full of self-doubt, but I feel like I’m coming into my own as a writing tutor. Sure, I may be the world’s WORST writing tutor – I have little concept of what kind of pedagogy excelling at this job really requires – but I feel more comfortable this semester, and I think I do a better job. I think I’m kind of a “Jokey Advice Giving” kind of tutor. I like to sit back and chat about the topic at hand, the process, the next steps.

It’s fun! I like being surprised by every student and every paper. It kind of makes me feel bad that I get paid.

Job #2

Job #2 is where I sit at the Reference Desk. This job is predictable in all the ways that library jobs are predictable – the teachers assign the same assignments, the stairwell is always hard to find, the articles will always be difficult to find. But lately, I’ve really felt like more of the Reference team than a grad student subordinate. Our staff is stepping up their game to some cool new services and such, and I feel like my feedback is valued. I am also working one-on-one with a librarian to do some little research projects, which is fun and I can do them while listening to Broadway musicals and drinking strong coffee. Word.

Job #1

Oh, Job #1. Job #1. I have been at Job #1 since I arrived in Boston, and I have taken on more and more responsibility, completed thousands of projects, met millions of staff people, talked with bazillions of students. I’ve had a different schedule every semester, two different bosses, and not a single raise.

But I like it. I do. I like my autonomy, my shiny new computer, my workload, my boss, my students (my students!).

Maybe I even love it. Maybe.

If I got a raise, I would probably love it.

Work/Life Balance


Sunday – Monday – Tuesday – Wednesday – Thursday “OH MY GOD IT’S ALREADY THURSDAY? WHERE DID MONDAY-WEDNESDAY GO? – Friday “OH CRAP IT’S THE WEEKEND!” – Saturday “Why am I so tired?

This could certainly be improved upon, but it’s just a semester. A semester that is a quarter over. I’m hoping to squeeze in some more Boston-y things, since I’m not sure if I will be here much longer than the next 6 months, and some more time with friends, since I’m not sure we will be together much longer than the next 6 months.

But a lot of the time, I catch myself thinking

Hey. Great school/jobs/friends/life. You got it good.”


20 Feb 2012

2012: week seven

February 12 – February 18

 Some weeks are just plain blurry.

So, here are the stats:

– 35 hours worked

– 10 hours interned

– 1 teen librarian interviewed

– 1 paper turned in

– 5 blog posts. (Woo!)

– 8 Sudafeds consumed

– 7.5 miles run

– 1 full day of anxiety

– 2 important items lost (headphones, T-pass)

Holy crap.

That’s a lot of stuff. Even for me. No wonder I can’t remember any of it.


Listening to:


19 Feb 2012

William C. Morris Award, 2012

This is a new book award to pique my interest. In the past, actually, I’ve been skeptical of debut authors. I think I just have a bad case of JudgeABookByItsCover-itis, actually – whenever I buy a book by a new author, I usually make my purchase because I am blinded by the cover art and then get let down with the content. And being that I’m the stingiest human in existence, I remember every single instance that I feel my money has been wasted, and it hurts my soul.

However, after reading a handful of Morris Award finalists for a class last year, I was pleasantly surprised. I think if you’re going to read a debut author, might as well start with the cream of the crop? Plus, as a future-librarian/children’s-lit-professional, it’s important to stay on top of what’s new – so I’m adding this award to the list of Awards To Get Geeky About.

I know, like I need another one.


Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

I think I have talked long enough about this book, which in addition to taking the William C. Morris also won the Printz award, and snagged a top spot on the highly competitive Books Jessica Read in 2011 Championship.


Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

This book went under the radar in the blogosphere, but has received really positive reviews in almost every review journal. It reminds me a lot of Inside Out and Back Again, because A) they both take place within families of non-American cultures living in America B) they are both written in verse C) they basically have the same cover. Anyway, the journal reviews are incredibly glowing – “beautiful debut,” “authentic,” “emotional,” etc.

Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard

This is a book about an all-boys boarding school, the tragic accidental death of a student who was doing some dumb teenager crap, and the guilt/redemption of the friends who watched it happen.

A Separate Peace? Finny? Have you been resurrected?

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

I will say that although my indoctrination to the science fiction and fantasy genres has softened me to the idea of reading books about Things That Just Don’t Exist, I still feel awful uncomfortable with selecting an epic fantasy quest to read. Even if they are purportedly quite good, which this one is.

My not-so-fantasy-hating-former-roommate did see it necessary to send me an email specifically to tell me about this title, though, even though she knows how I feel about SFF. For me, this is probably the equivalent of a blurb by Tamora Pierce or Megan Whalen Turner.

Which this book also has, by the way.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

This is the only book (other than WTCB) that I had picked up before the beginning of awards season. However, it was also one of Those Books That Got Away. I tried listening to it on audio, recently, and couldn’t pay attention. Le sigh. Some audiobooks are just like that, no?


17 Feb 2012

Trafficked by Kim Purcell

There are books that you know are right up your alley, and they don’t disappoint. There are books that you love like you love your friends or your family and that you read once a year to make you happy. There are books that you are in awe of, but you will probably never pick up again because you got everything there is to be had in one read. There are books that you finish and immediately want to pick up and read again.

I am not talking about any of those. I want to talk about the kind of book that, inexplicably, sticks with you. The book you pick up for no particular reason – maybe a good review or a recommendation, but not much more – and you read without expectations, but you are so very subtly blown away by what you find inside that even if you never read the book again, you will just always remember that book.

Summer of 2006. Summer vacation at my Grandpa’s house in Myrtle Beach. Randomly selected assortment of beach leisure reading.

Patricia McCormick’s Sold.

Sold is a book about a horrifying, systemic, human rights issue: young girls sold into sexual slavery in Nepal and India. The book attempts to bring awareness to this issue occurring, silently, across the globe. It explores the complex economic and social issues that allow such atrocities to occur. And it gives you an emotional punch in the face by telling the story, in verse, from the perspective of a 13-year-old girl who has been sold to a brothel.

Kim Purcell’s new novel, Trafficked, takes on the same challenge: to expose, explore, and personalize the experience of teens from Moldova – a particularly impoverished former Soviet nation – who are trafficked illegally into the United States. Purcell alludes to the fact that many of these girls are, indeed, being sold into prostitution. This fact alone, is brutal: right now, in your country, there are girls living in situations similar to those in McCormick’s Sold. However, the protagonist in Trafficked – Hannah – is not a  teen prostitute.  Hannah is a Moldovian girl – orphaned after a terrorist attack kills both her parents – who is trafficked into America so she can work as a live-in nanny for a wealthy Russian-American couple, ostensibly so she can live with few expenses and send her modest paychecks home to her ailing grandmother.

What Purcell does well here is keep the reader on the same, anxious level as Hannah. Even though the narrative follows Hannah’s every move, both she and the reader never quite figure out how it is that Hannah and other girls are making their way out of the country; all we know is that it’s beyond shady, dangerous, and someone somewhere is making a tidy sum off of each transaction. And once Hannah arrives in her new home, there is the constant threat that if Hannah makes a wrong move – or even if her employers simply have no more need for her – she  may be sent home, sent to jail as an illegal, or to a local brothel run by a friend of the family.

Purcell also characterizes the unique experience of a trafficked young girl, powerless almost beyond comprehension. Although Hannah’s employers are wealthy and show her some kindnesses, they are also controlling, demanding and randomly cruel. Hannah submits to their demands on the threat of being tossed to the streets, but every day she seems to realize more and more that she has become nothing more than a slave to these people.

However, I don’t think Trafficked will ever stay with me in the way that Sold did for the simple reason that Purcell lets her narrative diverge from the focus of human trafficking. Hannah begins to suspect that her nannying position was not as random as she believed: that she was, perhaps, targeted by this particular family. She sneaks around her employers house looking for clues, eavesdrops on conversations, and slowly, this plot becomes the main interest of the book.

The anxious tension that feels so powerful as the novel begins devolves into the territory of any typical thriller or mystery. The book, then, becomes a story about a specific, exceptional situation rather than about human trafficking.

Maybe McCormick set my standards too high, but I was ultimately disappointed. I found the book interesting and fairly engaging, but it lacked that emotional punch-you-in-the-gut quality that I hoped for.  Ultimately, I considered the book to be just another mediocre action plot wrapped in a sensational package.

Nothing that will stick.