Orca Soundings

Orca Soundings novels were developed to reach reluctant or lower reading level young adults and are designed to: discuss contemporary issues faced by teens, be short, have linear plotlines, compelling characters, and of high interest as outlined on the Orca website. The novels receive fairly good reviews and the personal accounts of young adult librarians support its popularity for this age group. The appeal factors for reluctant readers are the short length of the books, fast paced, topic centred, and strong, if not well-defined, characters. Several young adult librarians note that these books are a way or tool with which to develop a reader. A search for reviews of the Orca series found only those of teachers, formal publications, and librarians and did not retrieve any reviews written by teens themselves. This could be the hesitance of this group of readers to create reviews, but it appears to be a gap and causes me to question how effective the books are or if teens really do like and engage with them.

B Negative
The two novels in the series that I read were not chosen based on level of interest, but by what I could find at the library at the time of the assignment. Therefore, my selection already had a higher chance of disinterest as I had a limited number of materials available. I read B Negative by Vicki Grant and Truth by Tanya Lloyd Kyi and was not particularly impressed with either novel. I found the books to be very simplistic in character description and development and it was difficult to truly care about the main character, or in the case of Truth to even like her. The plots moved quickly and the books were easily read in one hour each. The novels felt too much like problem novels with specific lessons for the reader to learn and the very neat and tidy ending of the books was very unrealistic. In B Negative, who discovers that his stepfather is actually his birth father and that his Dad, who has sacrificed so much to support Paddy and his mother, had no biological connection. In the space of three chapters, the issue is resolved and all involved become a happy family with little lingering resentment and no restitution from his mother and step/birth father to the man who has funded their lifestyle for years. Personally I dislike novels that end like this because it seems an insult to the reader’s intelligence. No family can resolve those issues so quickly and I suspect few teens buy into this “happily ever after”.

Truth
After reading two novels from the series, listening to fellow class members discuss their experiences, and examining the reviews, I think that these books will likely never hold much interest for me, though I will attempt to read several more to gain a better understanding. I think that I will also recommend these books to reluctant readers, especially if they would be willing to review the books themselves.

LGBTQ Young Adult Literature: Two Boys Kissing and The Difference Between You and Me

“You can’t know what it is like for us now–you will always be one step behind.
Be thankful for that.
You can’t know what it was like for us then–you will always be one step ahead.
Be thankful for that, too.”

David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing

Two Boys KissingThese two novels have very different viewpoints, purpose, characters, and tone from each other, yet both are equally important LGBTQ novels.  Two Boys Kissing is framed around the primarily male viewpoints of alive and dead GBTQ individuals. Acting as the narrators, the previous generation of men, many of whom died of AIDS introduce the reader to teens, individually and as part of a couple. These range from a new romance, committed couple, recently-broken-up-but-still-friends couple, a suicidal individual, as well as friends and family members. The narration is powerful and revealing as the men react to the very different and yet similar lives of this “new” generation and their experiences navigating coming out, dating, acceptance, and family.

“We wish we could have been there for you. We didn’t have many role models of our own–we latched on to the foolish love of Oscar Wilde and the well-versed longing of Walt Whitman because nobody else was there to show us an untortured path. We were going to be your role models. We were going to give you art and music and confidence and shelter and a much better world. Those who survived lived to do this. But we haven’t been there for you. We’ve been here. Watching as you become the role models.”

David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing

The novel was inspired by the attempt for a Guinness World Record for the Longest Kiss attempted by Matty Daley and Bobby Canciello, two college students, in September of 2010. They kissed for 30 hours and filmed the entire attempt and the video of highlights is available below.

In their words, they did it to “advocate love” and “Because a kiss is the loudest thing we can say with our lips, without ever having to say anything at all”. Levithan based his novel upon two characters attempting a similar feat and the array of characters is intertwined with this effort, though not all storylines intersect.

“…he hopes that maybe it’ll make people a little less scared of two boys kissing than they were before, and a little more welcoming to the idea that all people are, in fact, born equal, no matter who they kiss or screw, no matter what dreams they have or love they give.”

David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing

The portrayal of these characters and their loved ones is beautiful in its honesty regarding love, acceptance, hate, and cruelty.

“It is hard to stop seeing your son as a son and to start seeing him as a human being.
It is hard to stop seeing your parents as parents and to start seeing them as human beings.
It’s a two-sided transition, and very few people manage it gracefully.”

David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing

differenceIn contrast to Two Boys Kissing, The Difference Between You and Me features LGBTQ characters, but their sexuality and related struggles are not the central storyline. Jesse and Emily’s secret relationship is a key factor in the novel, but it is more about the struggle to be true to yourself and beliefs in general, than simply sexuality. Jesse and Emily are not divided just because of Emily’s unwillingness to make their relationship public, but also their vastly different viewpoints about corporate sponsorship in their high school. The novel also has a lighter feel to it and comedic elements and characters are present. I really enjoyed the normalising of a character’s sexuality such as Jesse’s wherein the novel does not centre on her self-acceptance of her sexuality, but her understanding that standing up for what she believes in may cost her the love of her girlfriend. It is refreshing to read a young adult book where the main character is not tortured by her sexual preferences, but open, honest, and proud.

“Once,” Fran says, settling against the worktable, folding her arms, “I knew this kid who very bravely and bossily came out of the closet when she was only fourteen years old. She told me then that we can’t choose who we love. We just love the people we love, no matter what anyone else might want for us. Wasn’t that you?”

Madeleine George, The Difference Between You and Me

Emily is another story as she values the acceptance of other as far greater than her own happiness, but it could be argued that she is in fact happy to have a private relationship with Jesse and maintain an outer heterosexual identity. Indeed she does not seem very conflicted about it, but rather frustrated that Jesse doesn’t understand this. Emily is a difficult character as you want to sympathize with her situation, but she really doesn’t invite sympathy and perhaps doesn’t need it. Madeleine George has spoken very honestly about her creation process and what she wanted the novel to say.

“Anyway, if you need your heroes to be perfect, you won’t have very many. Even Superman had his Kryptonite. I’d rather have my heroes be more like me: trying to do the right thing, sometimes messing up. Making mistakes. Saying you’re sorry. And forgiving other people when they mess up, too.”

Madeleine George, The Difference Between You and Me

The power of these novels to discuss the realities of life as LGBTQ individuals from discrimination to alienation to acceptance and not to deny their experiences is profound. Both of these novels added to my own understanding in their own ways. The following quote from John Green best describes my reaction to these novels – in particular Two Boys Kissing.

quote-sometimes-you-read-a-book-and-it-fills-you-with-this-weird-evangelical-zeal-and-you-become-john-green-233423

“We do not start as dust. We do not end as dust. We make more than dust. That’s all we ask of you. Make more than dust.”

 David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing

 

Dystopian YA Fiction

distopian

The popularity of dystopian fiction for young adults exploded after the success of The Hunger Games with a large number of books being published or regaining interest, such as Divergent, Matched, The Maze Runner, The Uglies, The Giver,and Incarceron to name a few. Much of the appeal for these novels lies in the ability of the author to suggest an alternate reality that could easily be explained by the actions of adults today and in generations past. There is no doubt that the world is vastly different today than even twenty years ago and that the current issues of the environment and war have a direct connection to past generations’ actions. Additionally, these novels focus on individuals whose lives are about to face massive conflict and change due to elements under the sole control of adults. Often dystopian novels feature characters who must act independent of and in contrast to the message and actions of adults – whether parents, teachers, police, or government. While there is a glut of dystopian novels currently available, there are a number of excellent books in this genre and the general themes are appealing to teens who are struggling with a way forward as they move into adulthood.

I recently read two dystopian novels – All Good Children by Catherine Austen and After the Snow by S.D. Crockett – and had two very different reactions. I really enjoyed All Good Children and Maxwell Connors’ deviant personality and refusal to allow adult intervention in creating perfect children. I was drawn in very quickly and had a hard time putting it down to go to work. Max is not the perfect teen and thankfully has both a mother and friend who have no wish for him to be. The alternate reality in which genetic engineering neglected to create obedient children has its roots in today’s society and its emphasis on compliance.

all good children

In contrast, After the Snow was a more difficult read as I found the character distant to the point of the alienation of the reader and the plot turnings were fairly predictable. It seemed odd that a society so controlled by a government that forces those without papers into hard labour, managed to overlook rural hideouts. For this book, I skipped to the end after 3 chapters and skimmed a little of the middle to determine the end and plot lines. As a reader there are certainly times when a book just does not appeal nor suit to personal tastes. However, I can think of individuals to whom this story that pits a teen boy against individual and government persecution would appeal.

after the snow

Dystopia as a genre has far more sub-genres than I was aware of until a presentation this week that outlined the history and divisions of these materials. The genre information and reading lists are available at Young Adult Dystopian Literature. I strongly recommend this blog for individuals just discovering the genre or wanting to know more about appeal factors.

 

Golden Boy and the Issue of the “Outsider” Author

goldenboy 2

 

 

Of all the books read for MLIS YA Materials course, this was the most difficult and struggle reflected my personal history and my history as a reader. Before delving any deeper, it should be noted that Golden Boy’s author, Tara Sullivan drew upon her personal experiences and thorough research when writing the novel and wished to publicize the treatment of Albinos in Tanzania.

 

13 year old Habo is an albino born in rural Tanzania and while his condition has resulted in alienation among family members, it is not until his family travels to urban Mwanza that he understands the danger facing him. A growing number of people believe that the body parts of an albino are believed to bring good luck and prosperity to those possessing them. This ruthless trade threatens Habo’s life and his flight from the man who seeks to kill him occupies most of the novel.

 
I have always been reluctant to read books based on a specific culture or subculture that is written by “outsiders”. As a child growing up in a sheltered and insular Christian immigrant community many of the books we were given to read at school and church were written by these “outsiders” who intended to explain the world and other people through the lens of religious beliefs. Often this lens resulted in the portrayal of the world as a very sinful place with the stereotypical depictions of non-whites (especially non-Dutch) as simple, heathen, and in need of rescuing from their primitive and pagan cultural practices. I hated these books and was fortunate enough to have parents who encouraged me to use the local public library where I was able to access a wider range of materials. These distortions were present even in the fiction given to us concerning Amish and Mennonite cultures. With all of these books, I always wanted to know what the people discussed actually thought about what was written and what they would say if given the chance.

tanzania-flag

Perhaps not too surprisingly, I studied anthropology for my undergraduate degree and really embraced the opportunity to learn about cultures from their own perspective. Anthropology also has a background of individuals speaking for an entire culture based on their perceptions while living in a community. There is debate as to whether an anthropologist can ever be an insider or if they too will always be an “outsider”. With technology opening up communication, there are more and more insiders who are now able to share their stories with the world and are not dependent on others to do so.

Tanzania_map

Ultimately I will always value the story of the “insider” over that of the “outsider” because I feel that they are more authentic. I don’t deny that many “outsider” stories are valid and can be very well written and researched, such as the much applauded “The Breadwinner” by Deborah Ellis. I just can’t help wondering each time I read them, how much their personal beliefs and need for entertaining and engaging plot lines affects the story and what those individuals portrayed would really think. Every time I read one, I think of the documentary I saw in my Anthropology class where the Masaai women laughed at the interviewer for being so interested in them and questioned why anyone would view his recording and believe that it alone could explain their lives. They didn’t believe that he had the right to frame or narrate their lives because he lived with them for a number of years and felt he only had the knowledge to tell his own story.

Tara Sullivan’s book is engaging, well written, and does not try to sensationalize an issue for the sake of the story. A classmate also pointed out that she balances the depiction of Tanzania by contrasting those who believe in possessing albino body parts with those that are horrified and offer protection to albinos. I recommend this book for those who are interested and who will read it critically and form your own information. Visit Sullivan’s website for further book reviews and to links about the issues. Just never forget that the book is only one viewpoint of Tanzania and seek out Tanzanian authors such as Mkama Mwijarubi and Tune Salim.

Which Dewey Decimal Category Are You?

Michele Kirschebaum created the Dewey Decimal Category Personality quiz.  It passed very quickly from staff member to staff member at my library and on Facebook.  Give a try and see what category you are!

 

Which Dewey Decimal Category are You?

Created By Michele Kirschenbaum
 on March 13, 2014

Ever wonder if you were a book, which Dewey Decimal Classification you’d be categorized as?

Take this quiz and find out! Created by EasyBib!

 

My Results:

You got 800’s – Literature! You are a true bookworm! You are always in the middle of a fantastic book and hit up your local library often. You appreciate not only fiction novels and nonfiction books, but enjoy reading poetry and plays as well! You can recite the plot of quite a few Shakespeare plays and appreciate theater and the arts!

 

 

Seraphina – Rachel Hartman’s debut novel

SeraphinaI was incredibly excited to read this debut novel by Rachel Hartman and ordered a copy as soon as available.  Fantasy novels are a particular favourite of mine and any novel that features dragons is guaranteed a read, though they do not always measure up to expectations.  Hartman’s depiction of humans and dragons living together in a tense peace was an engaging and fascinating read.  Reminiscent of the wise and mercurial dragons in Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles that were such a huge part of me and my friends’ childhood.

Hartman’s novel is full of drama, suspense, romance, and a wonderfully complex reimaging of dragons.  Once I started the novel, it was impossible to put it down and resulted in a very tired reader as I stayed up until 2 am to finish it.  I was impressed by the romance storyline for while it is an important element, it was not the sole motivation or concern of the individuals as opposed to novels such as Twilight.  Instead her characters are well rounded and have to deal with issues beyond the boy or girl they like.  Seraphina has to hide her very self as she is the product of a marriage between a human and a dragon (in human form) and risks death if others were to find out who she is.  Despite this, she is unable to give up on her musical talent which draws the attention of the royal court.  Her father adamantly opposes her decision and though he loves her, he too has much to lose if she is discovered and wishes her to hide herself away.  In addition to her physical world challenges, Seraphina has inner turmoil as she has unexplained links to other individuals that dominate her mind and has little understanding of what this gift is.   Her friendship with the royal family will not go unnoticed and will draw her into court intrigues.

Hartman’s dragons are fully imagined and given their motivations, ideals, and emotions, though they disdain human preoccupation with these.  Dragons value intellect and cool reason and logic and actively avoid emotion through voluntary, and occasionally involuntary, excision of it.  Hartman’s love of music is evident in this novel and the reader can almost hear the songs simply based on her lyrical descriptions.  Her attention to detail in the creation of this fantastical world results in a sophisticated and realistic environment.

In her interview with The Book Rat Hartman credits several factors for her inspiration of the story including her parent’s divorce and the idea of marrying someone who you didn’t truly know, as well as her love of music and medieval history.  She had no difficulty in building the world of Seraphina and was even told by editors that the story needed to be as least as large as the world.  When asked what propaganda posters would be used to promote peace between humans and dragons, she suggests “Humans – They’re Not for Breakfast Anymore”.  See the full interview below for more details of her writing process.

For those who love this book and want to know what happens with Seraphina and Orma and the tenuous peace agreement, you will have a long wait for the sequel, Shadow Scale, which will be released in March 2015.  In the meantime, visit Hartman’s website for further information, reviews of other novels, and interviews.

Diary Narratives: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen

WARNING: This posting contains spoilers

Henry

This book takes on the form of a diary which provides the reader with a unique narrative in which the story is told.  Cecil, Henry’s therapist, gives him a notebook in which to record his feelings and life as a means to assist the healing process after “IT”.  The diary narrative allows readers access to Henry’s reality and interpretations.  While we can interpret other character’s intentions, it is all portrayed from Henry’s perspective.  It is difficult to have an objective viewpoint of the story because everything comes through the filter of Henry’s reality.  This method of narration makes the book so much more intimate and honest.  Readers begin to piece together the story of “IT” through details Henry reveals in his diary and eventually we learn that his older brother Jesse has committed suicide after shooting and killing the bully who has been tormenting him.  The revelation of these details in a diary provides the greater context for the situation and removes the “sensationalism” from the school shooting aspect of the situation.  Instead the book focuses on the painful realities of bullying and suicide and demonstrates how these incidents cannot be separated from the context of daily life.  On her website, Susin Nielsen discusses the motivation for this storyline.

Henry faces the difficulties of loving and hating a family member who is not around for you to ask the questions that need answers, to rage against or to comfort.  No one wants to think of a loved dying alone and in that much pain.  For all that his family knew there was a problem, Jesse did not share the truth of what he was going through with anyone and even when Henry caught a glimpse of what life was like for him, Jesse swore him to silence.  Dealing with suicide is always difficult and painful for it reveals how much inner turmoil can exist for people and how alone they feel.

Reach for the top

The introduction of the Reach for the Top team to Henry’s school life was exciting for me as I have never read a book previously that included such an important aspect of my own high school life.  This team provided me and my fellow players the same sense of belonging, camaraderie, and pride that Farley and his team members experience.  It was a way to participate in a team, especially when many of us would not qualify for sports teams, and a place that celebrated what was discouraged or mocked outside of the team.  Here having an interest in reading encyclopedia’s for fun was no longer weird, but accepted and even prized.  Like Farley, it allowed us to bounce back to know that we had skills and purpose despite what bullies and even family members may value.

This book deals with painful issues and yet remains humorous and true to real life.   It portrays real life, the good and the bad and the painful reality of life going on around us even as we struggle to deal with our own losses and pain.  There is no pause button on life for Henry – he has to continue with school and life.  It also touches on the often present theme in young adult materials of having to find your own way when the adults in your life are no longer there to guide you.  Henry lost more than his brother that fateful day; he lost his friends, home, innocence, and the ability to trust in his parents for assistance and guidance.  His Mom is in psychiatric care and his father is following his own path to healing and at the beginning of the novel is relatively oblivious to what Henry needs.  Yet once, Henry allows them to reach out, he finds support from unlikely people, especially those who he initially resists so strongly.  At the risk of sounding cheesy, this book will make you laugh and cry and is definitely worth recommending to young adult readers.