Monthly Archives: March 2015

I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson

I'll Give You the SunJude and Noah are twins. They are so close that they finish one another’s sentences. They can communicate without talking. When they play Rock-Paper-Scissors, they can never make a decision, because they always choose the same thing. They are NoahandJude.

Their parents are both professors, but their mom is the artistic one. Noah pictures her walking on air all the time. Their dad is a jock, and Noah believes that Dad is disappointed in him because he is not interested in sports at all; he’d rather be drawing or painting. Above all, Noah does not want his father to find out that he’s gay.

Jude is so close to her grandmother that when she dies, Jude hangs onto the book of superstitions and sayings that she assembled and calls it her bible. As life starts to unravel for the twins, Jude works hard to rearrange the world by carrying an onion in her pocket or arranging shells on her windowsill.

When their mother decides that the twins should apply to the local arts high school, Noah and Jude experience competition and jealousy as they never have before. Both are sure that the other will be accepted, and their dark emotions come into play as they go through all of the struggles of growing up. As the story jumps three years into the future, we see how the twins’ lives have been changed by the tragic mistakes they made in the past. Told in alternating chapters by each sibling, readers experience both perspectives first-hand.

I’ll Give You the Sun won the Printz Award this year, and since I’ll be attending the Printz reception and hearing Jandy Nelson’s acceptance speech in San Francisco this June, I put it at the top of my list. I read her debut, The Sky Is Everywhere, several years ago when it was first published, and I remembered how sad it was. When I’ll Give You the Sun came out, I wasn’t sure that I could bear to experience that much sorrow again. It is the mark of a good writer that you do feel all of the emotion that they intend, so I will say that Jandy Nelson is a very good writer! Noah and Jude’s story is absolutely tragic most of the time. Both of them make choices that cause the reader to cringe and then dread the consequences. There are wonderful secondary characters, too, who also lead lives filled with sorrow. Thankfully, since this is a coming-of-age novel par excellence, everyone learns from the past and moves forward with greater wisdom—scarred,  yet all the more beautiful for it.

I’ll Give You the Sun is compelling and absorbing. I could not wait to get back to it at the end of each workday, and I thoroughly enjoyed the exploration of the artistic process. However, as a realistic teen story, there is quite a bit of sexual content from different orientations— wondering about sex, wanting to have sex, having sex, sexual regrets, and on and on. So, not for tweens. Rather, this one is recommended for older teens and adults.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Mosquitoland, by David Arnold

MosquitolandMary Iris Malone liked her old psychiatrist better. This new one wants her to take medication, and her father is thrilled to have someone finally agree with him. He is determined to have everything go smoothly and normally now that he left Mim’s mom in Ohio and moved to Mississippi with Mim and his new wife, Kathy. Now Mim hasn’t heard from her mother in a while, and when she is called to the office at school, she overhears her stepmother telling the principal that Mim’s mother will beat this disease, that she’s a fighter. What disease? Mim turns around before they see her and walks right out of school, finds the coffee can where Kathy keeps her cash, and takes off on a Greyhound bus to see her mom while she’s still alive.

Told in Mim’s inimitable voice and punctuated by letters to an unknown person named Isabel, this road trip story packs in a cast of colorful characters and wild situations. Equipped with a tricky epiglottis, Mim has to work to keep her lunch down, which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on whose shoes are in front of her. During the trip, she decides not to take her medication, so the reader is continually aware that everything Mim sees may be filtered through schizophrenia. Mim is precocious and well-read, with a vocabulary both prodigious and foul, a great storyteller who often ends a depressing tale with “…’twas ever thus.” Her journey is peppered with creepy old men, great old ladies, a homeless boy (“Hey, hey. I’m Walt.”), and a devastatingly handsome young guy, to name a few. All of these people work to help or hinder Mim’s desperate journey to reach her mother before it’s too late.

When I read the description of this debut novel, I didn’t think it would interest me, but I bought it for the library because of all the starred reviews. I read it only because I knew it would be a Printz contender next year. By about page two, I fell in love with it. This is a brilliant novel, and Mim is one of the most appealing protagonists I’ve read in a long time. Her voice is sterling: so tough, and yet terribly vulnerable. Smart, witty teens are one reason that my job is so gratifying, and I resent it when people say that the teen characters in some YA novels are unrealistic. I know too many great kids to believe them. Teens have little control over their own lives, and Mim is someone who has fought against the choices adults have made in her life—either ignorant choices for her or self-centered choices for themselves—with her natural intelligence and humor. Sometimes, she is afraid to trust the right people because so many have let her down before, and yet her heart is wide open to the inner beauty of the innocence she sees in Walt, another character who is just… well, I have tears in my eyes just remembering him.

I highly recommend Mosquitoland, with the caveat that the language can be rough and the situations are sometimes those that should be expected of a sixteen-year-old girl traveling alone. Older teens and adults. Kudos to David Arnold on an incredible debut. May he write many, many more.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Truth About Twinkie Pie, by Kat Yeh

Truth About Twinkie PieDiDi has been taking care of her younger sister, GiGi (Galileo Galilei), since their mother died in a house fire. All they have left of Mom is her book of recipes. Even though DiDi (Delta Dawn) won a million dollars in a cooking contest, she is still extremely frugal, saving every penny for GiGi’s education. DiDi cuts hair for a living, but she’s determined that her hardworking, academically-gifted little sister will have nothing but the best. It’s the beginning of a new school year, and GiGi is about to enter her first year at a very exclusive prep school.

Little does DiDi know that her sister has no intention of continuing down the solitary, studious path she’s been on all her life. New school, new girl—one with a New and Improved Recipe for Success. Now she wants to be called Leia, not GiGi, and she wants to sit with friends at lunchtime, not study in the library. Quickly enough, Leia makes friends, frenemies, and maybe more than friends at her new school. Though Leia had decided that DiDi was a boring nag, she starts to have qualms of jealousy when mean girl Mace begins spending all her time with her at the salon. Furthermore, Leia begins to realize that her new friends’ parents may not think she is good enough for their little darlings.

This book was much more than I expected, in many ways. First of all, the themes are much more mature than the title would suggest. Despite the regular appearance of tooth-rottingly sweet recipes, The Truth About Twinkie Pie might be most comfortable for a middle-schooler. Secondly, the book was much more profound than I would have anticipated. DiDi and GiGi, as well as most of the secondary characters, are flawed and vulnerable, and the reader comes to care for them deeply. In the course of the novel, GiGi will come to know the truth, and there is quite a series of discoveries that will shake her. Her choices after these revelations will determine her future character and happiness. Kudos to Kat Yeh for a well-written and engaging novel that will stay with the reader for a long time.

Recommended for sixth grade and up.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this novel, obtained from the author at BEA. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Salad Love, by David Bez

Salad LoveEvery weekday morning at six-thirty, I pack a salad to take to work. Every weekday afternoon at one-thirty, I eat my salad.

I am not fond of salad.

As a diabetic, it is tough to come up with portable meals that are nutritious and can be eaten at a desk. Sandwiches are out, of course, and there are not enough leftovers to be assured of a satisfying meal every day. Plus, it works very well to have all of my meals except dinner take place on automatic pilot: David makes eggs for breakfast, late morning is plain yogurt with fruit-only jam, lunch is salad. No thinking required, which is good, because thinking does not engage until around eight AM. I try to change up the ingredients in the salad, but I really just vary two basic recipes.

David BezWhen I saw the book Salad Love come into the library, my first thought was, “Salad. Bleh.” Then I opened the book, and “love” is exactly the right word for what I felt. Author David Bez, who is a very friendly-looking guy, decided to make a different salad at his desk every day for three years! Here, he has chosen 260 different salads, one for each workday of the year, arranged by season.  Each recipe is on one page, with a stunning picture of the salad at the top. Every single page has a picture. So gorgeous! Yet there are really very few exotic ingredients. Hemp seeds were probably the most unusual item I saw.

Bez begins by explaining the five layers of successful salad building, and then has four pages of dressing recipes—24 of them!—each with a picture of a tiny white bowl holding that dressing. Then he goes into the salad recipes, and gives alternatives for all of them according to diet. For example, a salad with roast beef in it may feature a vegan alternative, or a salad with cooked grain may offer a raw foods alternative.

I am happy to say that when you look up this book on Amazon, you can see the beautiful photography inside. At the library, we just riffled through the pages when someone walked by, and every single person took it home. I might have to buy this one.

As David Bez says, “Buon appetito!”

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else. I do not receive money from Amazon when you click through, because Amazon does not play well with us in North Carolina.

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An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir

Ember in the AshesLaia and her brother, Darin, have lived with their grandparents in the Scholar section of town ever since her parents were killed by the Martials. As they grew older, the children came to know that their parents were leaders of the Resistance, opposed to the Martials’ occupation and oppression. Years later, Laia suspected that Darin was doing something dangerous, and she worried that the notebook of sketches he kept might fall into the wrong hands. The night that the Martials broke into their home, they killed her grandparents, but took Darin prisoner. Laia ran away and found the leaders of the Resistance. Reluctantly, they agreed to find and free Darin if Laia allowed herself to become enslaved as a servant to the Commandant, the harsh, evil woman who ruled the Martials. Laia was forced to spy on them from inside Blackcliff, the school for soldiers and the center of their power.

Elias grew up with the native tribes, hearing stories of their culture while living with a loving family. When he was six years old, though, he was scooped up by the Martials and compelled into training at Blackcliff. He was a natural soldier: strong, agile, and relentless. He was chosen to be a Mask, one of an elite cadre whose metallic masks become a living part of their faces. Elias’ mask, though, can still be removed, even though he is ready to graduate after all these years. Some people think his loose mask exposes Elias’ true rebellious nature, but they don’t dare say it in front of Elias’ mother, the Commandant.

Both Laia and Elias will have to struggle through tremendous obstacles and grave dangers in order to reach their goals. During the journey, they will come to question their allegiances, their own hearts, and everything they’ve been led to believe. Told in alternating chapters between these two characters, Tahir also weaves in well-drawn secondary characters with fascinating stories of their own. In a nutshell, this is Hunger Games meets Divergent in the Arabian Desert with Roman names and customs. That might sound like a hot mess, but it works—it really works. The good characters are flawed yet earnest enough to be thoroughly lovable, and the bad characters are infuriatingly hateful. Along with the main characters, the reader does not know whom to trust, and even at the end, we are not sure about the path our heroes should take.

Oh, yes, it is a doorstop fantasy and the first of a series. An Ember in the Ashes is Ms. Tahir’s debut novel, and it is the Next Big Thing. I believe the movie rights have already been procured. It is a total page-turner that you and your teens will love. It has quite a bit of violence, and sex is casually discussed, so it is more appropriate for upper teens.

An Ember in the Ashes will not be released until April 28, 2015, but you can reserve your copy at the library right now.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this novel. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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