Tag Archives: Rainbow Rowell

Favorite Young Adult Series and Titles

The next installment of The Best of EatReadSleep’s 10th Anniversary series!

For about fifteen years, I either worked with teens in a library or, later, selected teen books for the library system, and I really enjoyed this collection. Young adult literature is a thriving subculture. At conferences, these authors are rock stars, and their fans are not only teenagers, but plenty of adults, especially librarians and teachers. Young adult books are where all of the latest headlines go to live through stories, and there is some great and undervalued writing going on in this space. Some of my selections are a few years old, but definitely stand the test of time.

Beloved Series

If you’ve read EatReadSleep for any number of years, you know that I have covered some YA series every time a new volume comes out. Here are some of my favorites, although I am sure that I’m leaving out something fantastic. Click on the titles for the full reviews, and search the authors for more reviews in the series.

Megan Whalen Turner’s “Queen’s Thief” series starts with a teen-appropriate The Thief and then moves into complex and subtle intrigue with a hint of fantasy.
I will read anything by Maggie Stiefvater, but her “Raven Cycle” is a favorite fantasy series. It starts with The Raven Boys.
Another winning series is “The Lumaterre Chronicles,” by Melina Marchetta, which starts with Finnikin of the Rock, but I reviewed the second volume, Quintana of Charyn. High fantasy with some adult content. The writing is exquisite.  
My Plain Jane and others by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows are hilariously reimagined classics. These are delightful audiobooks, too, narrated by Fiona Hardingham.

Favorite Authors and Single Titles

Jason Reynolds has been the author of many of my favorite kids’ books. The first teen title I read by Jason was the stunning Long Way Down.
John Green had a lot of hits, such as Turtles All the Way Down, although his last work, The Anthropocene Reviewed, was for adults. His teens were always precocious and witty, like the kids I worked with in our library book groups.
Ruta Sepetys is another author who is consistently a winner, especially her first, Between Shades of Gray, and my favorite, The Fountains of Silence.
The Downstairs Girl, by Stacey Lee. A young Chinese woman in reconstruction Atlanta is determined to make it as a writer.
Everything Sad Is Untrue, by Daniel Nayeri. A true story about the Christian author’s family fleeing Iran, humorously told in the style of Scheherazade.
Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell. A brilliant teen romance made agonizing by family secrets and the helplessness of the young and dependent.

There are some excellent LGBTQ+ writers in teen literature, and they’ve been winning awards for decades. A few of my favorites include:

Darius the Great Is Not Okay, by Adib Khorram. Take a trip to Persia—Iran—with this vulnerable and sweet young man and his family. It won the Morris Award for debut novels.
I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson. A brother and sister work through dark secrets to live into the meaning of art. A Printz and Stonewall winner.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz. In 2013, it was the first LGBTQ romance I ever read. This beautiful and heartbreaking book won the Stonewall Award, a Printz honor, and the Pura Belpré Award.
I read the mind-bending We Are the Ants on my way to a Baker & Taylor conference in Orlando, where I met the kind author, Shaun David Hutchinson, and we wept together over the loved ones we had lost to Alzheimer’s.

In our next installment, we will venture into favorite children’s titles from the last ten years!

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Landline, by Rainbow Rowell

ImageGeorgie is a TV comedy writer in Los Angeles, working alongside her best friend, Seth. They’ve been partners since high school, and her husband, Neal, has learned to deal with it. Neal stays home and takes care of their two daughters, Alice and Noomi, until the Christmas that Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go with them to his mother’s house in Omaha because she and Seth have to write four scripts for the new show that will be the big break they’ve always wanted. Neal takes the girls and leaves, and through a series of strange occurrences, Georgie and Neal can never connect after that, although Georgie is able to reach the girls several times. Is Neal doing this on purpose? Wait, did he just leave her for good?

Georgie doesn’t want to go to her own empty house, so she ends up staying at the house where she grew up, along with her flirty mother, whose new husband is only three years older than Georgie, and his daughter, Heather. Something strange is happening on the landline phone in her childhood bedroom, and suddenly, Georgie’s driven, Hollywood life goes screeching off into a ditch. Because of Neal’s silence, she is forced to take a hard look at the choices she’s made, not just for herself, but for Neal and the girls, as well.

Rainbow Rowell raises some terrifying questions in this engrossing novel, such as: If you could put your finger on the moment in your life that is the crossroads, would you make a less selfish choice and change your life forever? Would you do it if you knew that you would suffer, but the ones you loved would be happier? What is a marriage, and why did you marry the person you’re with? Do you even make conscious decisions at all, or do you just go along with the path of least resistance?

I’ve read all four Rainbow Rowell novels now, and this one brought to light a particular talent of hers: Ms. Rowell writes completely loveable male characters. Oh, sure, she can write an ogre like Eleanor’s stepfather, too, but her quiet heroes are wonderful in a way that only men can be.  Lincoln, in Attachments, is so tentative that you want to give him a pep talk, but he is kind to his mother and even to the old woman he shares his dinner with. Park is amazing (and has parents that make you proud to be a parent), and Levi, in Fangirl, is adorable. In Landline, you’re so convinced of Neal’s goodness that you don’t know what you want Georgie to do. Well, you do want a happy ending, but even though Georgie is the main character, you’re pretty sure that Neal is a much better person than she is. He’s so worthy of her love, but you’re not sure she’s worthy of him. That is such an achievement for a writer! Georgie is a great gal, but the reader’s emotions are conflicted because the male character is so noble.

This is, at its most basic, a novel about marriage—marriage as the most fundamental, life-changing relationship that it is possible to have. Georgie realizes that she has taken her marriage for granted, just because it’s so easy to do that when another person ceases to exist as “other,” and instead becomes intertwined into the self. Rowell’s gift for dialogue shines here, but she also has a couple of beautiful and witty passages that I’m dying to quote for you, but I read an advance reader copy, so I can’t do that. I highly recommend the book for adults and older teens. If you’re married, it will make you want to go hug your spouse. If you’re not married, it will make you want to skip over the cool guys or the gorgeous guys and look for the good guys.

*Coming in July, 2014. If you plan to borrow it from the library, get in line now.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, provided by McMillan Publishers. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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My Printzables

ImageEarly on in the game, I realized that I would not be able to read everything I wanted for both the Newbery Award and the Printz Award, so I chose the Newbery. The books are shorter, for one thing, and I helped to run our library system’s Mock Newbery Club for five years before I became a selector, so I have more experience with that competition.

This is not to say that I haven’t read for the Printz, however. I am more likely to read a Young Adult (YA) book on my own anyway, so it is not a burden to do so. The Michael L. Printz Award is given to the best book written for teens in each calendar year, and if you’ve seen the Hunger Games movies, you’ll know that YA authors are doing some great work and seeing substantial commercial success. The Printz Award is looking for literary quality, rather than popularity, though. One big difference between the Printz and the Newbery is that the Printz can be awarded to any author, regardless of nationality.

I’ve categorized all of the following YA books that were published in 2013 into four groups, along with some short comments. Almost all of those that I read have been reviewed on this blog. If not, there was probably a reason.

ImageGroup One: The Series. First of all, here are the books that I liked (or sometimes loved) very much, but I feel that they are so dependent on their prequels and/or sequels that they cannot stand on their own:

Across a Star-Swept Sea, by Diana Peterfreund (Second in a fun series.)

The Bitter Kingdom, by Rae Carson (Third in a great trilogy.)

The Clockwork Princess, by Cassandra Clare (Third in a fabulous trilogy.)

The Dream Thieves, by Maggie Stiefvater (Maggie never disappoints. Second in a wonderful series.  Complex characters.)

Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger (Fun series derived from her adult series “The Parasol Protectorate.”)

The Lord of Opium, by Nancy Farmer (So very literary. Wonderful, but dependent on House of the Scorpion.)

Quintana of Charyn, by Melina Marchetta (Third in THE trilogy. “The Lumatere Chronicles” is THE series for older teens and adults.)

ImageGroup Two: Not winners. Here is another list of titles that I just do not find literary enough for the award. Some of these are top contenders on other lists, but I feel that there are better titles this year. Although they are not my picks for an award, a few were very good reads. If you’d like more information about a title in this list that I did not review, let me know.

All Our Pretty Songs, by Sarah McCarry- So many drugs, and I can’t quite remember the plot.

Far Far Away, by Tom McNeal- I liked this, but not as much as many others did.

The Golden Day, by Ursula Dubosarsky- Characters too young; not enough character development.

The Kingdom of Little Wounds, by Susann Cokal- Absolutely not. This is an adult book—for adults with strong stomachs. What was Candlewick thinking? The characters are teens because they lived in a time when girls married at 13 and were happy to live to age 30.

More Than This, by Patrick Ness- Loads of fun, but derivative. Not as literary as others.

 Rapture Practice, by Aaron Hartzler- Nicely done memoir. I just liked other things better.

Reality Boy, by A.S. King- A compelling story by an exceptional author, but not a favorite this year. I loved her Everybody Sees the Ants.

Sex & Violence, by Carrie Mesrobian. Great character development with a weak ending. Much better than you’re thinking.

The Sin-Eater’s Confession, by Ilsa J. Bick- A rugged read. I could not get over the author’s bigoted depiction of Christians.

The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson- Oh, so pretentious. Many experts disagree, but I did not like any of the characters. It reminded me of the values expressed in Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence: artists are exempt from “middle-class morality.”

ImageGroup Three: I ran out of time. Books that are on many top Printz prediction lists that I did not read, although I would like to, are:

Charm & Strange, by Stephanie Kuehn

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black

Midwinterblood, by Marcus Sedgwick [Update! Please see review on January 26, 2014]

Picture Me Gone, by Meg Rosoff

Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein (Loved the first one.)

Winger, by Andrew Smith

I actually had some of these on my nighttable, but I just ran out of time.

ImageGroup Four: The winners! That leaves me with this list of six favorites for the year, two by one author!

All the Truth That’s in Me, by Julie Berry- Tense, gritty. Great main character in a unique story.

Boxers & Saints, by Gene Luen Yang- This is actually a pair of graphic novels based on the Boxer Rebellion in China, and it works incredibly well! Complex and surprising. Will the committee consider it one work?

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell- Ripped my heart out. My emotions were completely engaged. Tremendous character development. This is my top pick of the year.

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell- A three-layer novel with great characters. Fun, engaging; engrossing story.

The Midnight Dress, by Karen Foxlee- Lush writing, beautiful setting, and a strong main character.

Out of the Easy, by Ruta Sepetys- A true coming-of-age story with an exceptional setting.

In summary, my favorite three, in order, are probably:

1)      Eleanor & Park

2)      The Midnight Dress

3)      Fangirl

All of these favorites are great reads for adults and teens, and these authors are among the best anywhere. Go check them out!

We’re making a party out of the ALA Children’s Media Awards at our library. Tune into the webcast here by 8:00 on Monday morning, January 27th. No matter which titles garner the medals, all the readers win!

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed are completely my own and do not reflect those of my employer, several friends, or the professional medal-watch bloggers. But we have fun.

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Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

ImageCather and Wren’s mother was not eager to have a baby at all, and when it turned out to be twins, she couldn’t even bother to come up with a second name; she just divided the one she’d chosen in half. When the girls were eight years old, she threw in the towel for good. They found out about her decision on September 11, 2001, so while the rest of the country mourned, Cath and Wren cried for a different reason. Bonded together more than ever, the twins spent their time taking care of their sweet but unstable father and writing fan fiction about the incredibly popular Simon Snow series. Cath did most of the writing, and Wren was her beta reader. By the time they went to college, Magicath had thousands of regular readers.

Cather imagined that life would continue as usual, fitting in her schoolwork around her fanfiction writing, but Wren wanted the full-on college experience. She arranged to have a different room from her sister, made all new friends, and did not fit her schoolwork in around drinking and partying. Cather’s roommate was aggressive and hostile, and her boyfriend was nosy. Furthermore, the boy who was assigned to be her writing partner in one of her classes was riding on Cather’s writing skills, and even stealing her ideas and words. After one assignment, Cath was shocked to find out that her professor did not consider fanfiction to be original writing! She protested the failing grade that she’d received, and her prof gave her the opportunity to make it up, but Cath held out on principle. While Cath dithered on raising her grade in her most important class and Wren continued to implode, Cath’s romantic life became very complicated and their father chose that moment to have a breakdown.

Rainbow Rowell has written a complex and delightful coming-of-age novel in which every character needs to come of age: the main characters, the roommates, the boyfriends, and the parents.  Furthermore, Rowell has created her own metafiction! The very Potteresque Simon Snow is the creation of another fictional author, and there are excerpts from that series scattered between chapters. In a second layer, there are bits of Cather’s Simon Snow fanfiction between chapters, and long segments reprinted within the narrative of the top layer, which is Cather’s real-life story, in which she writes the fanfiction. It seems complicated, but the reader will sail through without a single hiccup.

I am a huge Rainbow Rowell fan, and I’ve read all three of her extant novels, all of which I’ve reviewed on this blog. While many of my friends loved Fangirl the best because they identify with Cather’s emotions and experiences during college, Eleanor and Park is still my favorite. This may be because (shocking children’s librarian confession) I liked, but did not love, Harry Potter. I mean, I liked Harry personally, and wanted to take him home and feed him, but I did not love the books. Plus, I was an adult with a young child when Harry was first published, so he had nothing to do with my college days. Tolkien, yes. Harry, no.  Be that as it may, Fangirl can be loved all for its own sake, and I do love it. I just love Eleanor and Park more.

Rainbow RowellA friend of mine met Rainbow Rowell at Book Expo America in May and called me at work immediately, squealing because she knew I was a big fan. I asked her if Ms. Rowell was as nice in real life as she seemed on the back flap of her books, and she said she was even nicer. I’m always glad to know that a person I’ve spent so much time with lives up to my mental image!

I can highly recommend Fangirl to pretty much everyone, but particularly teens and college students—especially nerdy ones and readers—as well as adults who are Harry Potter fans, too. If you don’t fit into any of those categories, read it anyway, plus Rainbow Rowell’s other great novels. Fangirl will hit the shelves on September 10th.

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

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Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell

Lincoln stayed in college after his girlfriend, Sam, the absolute love of his life, broke up with him in freshman year. He stayed and stayed for nine years, earning one degree after another. Now he’s back home and has taken a job working nights at a large newspaper office. He works in IT reading interoffice emails that the newspaper’s security program has flagged, and he feels terribly apologetic about it. What sort of job is this, spying on your co-workers and then telling on them?

There are certain emails that Lincoln doesn’t take action on, though. Best friends Jennifer and Beth are funny and sweet, and even though they talk about every personal detail of their lives and set off the red flags almost every night, Lincoln guiltily enjoys their friendly banter and the care that they have for one another. Jennifer is married, and although her husband is eager to become a father, Jennifer is not at all ready to be a mother. Every month is an emergency for her, and Beth is there to joke and comfort her through to the day of “Oh, good. False alarm.” Beth is single, but has been living with her rock-star boyfriend for years. She’s crazy about him, but being the maid of honor in her sister’s wedding is sending her around the bend. Will she ever be the bride? Maybe not, since she has a huge crush on the cute new guy at work. After a while, Lincoln realizes that Cute Guy is him.

Although Lincoln is the greatest underdog hero ever written, he is not a loser. Yes, he lives at home with his divorced mom, but why not? She doesn’t charge any rent and the food is great! And he has friends. A bunch of them get together every week to play Dungeons & Dragons. Then there’s Doris, at work. She’s the 60+ lady he shares his mom’s cooking with in the break room every night while she teaches him pinochle. His sister, Eve, is always there to give advice, most of which comes down to: “Get away from Mom.” When his D&D buddy, Justin, becomes a big fan of Beth’s boyfriend’s band, Lincoln’s life gets complicated.

As time goes by, Lincoln finds that he cares very much about Beth, even though they’ve never met. When he sees her for the first time one night in the break room with Doris, he falls head over heels. Then he realizes that it will never work. How could she care for him if she knew that he’d been reading her personal emails for months? Their entire relationship would be built on deceit. He vows to stop reading, but that would be akin to breaking away from his closest friends.

This is the second (of two) Rainbow Rowell book that I’ve read, and I can now be declared a raving fan. Eleanor and Park, a teen novel, was gritty and sad and altogether beautiful. Attachments is one of the sweetest and happiest love stories ever. Rowell also has a sense of humor that keeps it far from saccharine.  You will love Lincoln. He’s like a big puppy; you just want to fix everything for him. He deserves so much happiness, and he is kind to all of the ordinary, flawed people in his life. The reader will not only care about the very warm and human main characters in this novel , but he will also recognize all of the well-portrayed secondary characters as people just like his own friends and family.

You want to read this book. You really do.

Now I have an advance copy of Rowell’s next book, Fangirl, which is a YA novel due out in September. I begged for it from my wonderful Children and Teen Services folks at Baker & Taylor, and they sent it to me, along with a tote bag and a yo-yo. They are so hilarious, and they always come through for me. Review to come.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of Attachments. My opinions are solely my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or anyone else.


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Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

In the latest installment of Cheryl Gets a Smart Phone, I have learned how to download and listen to an MP3 audiobook on my Droid! Let’s just bask in that glow of accomplishment before we even get to the review of the book. I had to go stand in the Digital Librarians’ office to download the software. We call this room the DigiDen, a small room filled with happily busy geeks, pooling all of their creative ideas and techy know-how. It’s heady stuff, and it’s just down the hall from me. Anyhow, several of them are Droid users, so I stood there with my phone in hand saying, “Now it says this. What do I press?” After a few steps and some great advice, I was ready to go. I actually downloaded the book in the Food Lion parking lot the next night.

So, now that I’ve congratulated myself on my ever-increasing knowledge (of names of tech-savvy Droid users whom I can harass), let’s move on to the very worthy audiobook.

Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell, is a love story. It’s also a book about parents’ new partners, child abuse and neglect, and several other gritty topics. Eleanor has just returned home after a year of living with family friends. Her new stepfather threw her out when she expressed her negative opinion of his treatment of her mother. Unfortunately for everyone, Eleanor has several younger siblings who continued to live with their mother and this drunken, abusive creep. Not too far away, Park lives with his deliriously happily married parents, an ex-Marine and a Korean beautician. Although Park is short and quiet, the kids at school leave him alone because he and the bully, Steve, have been friends since they were little kids. The first day that Eleanor gets on the bus, wearing ill-fitting thrift store clothing, no one wants to let her sit beside them. Finally Park, very ungraciously, allows her to sit by him.

As these two very different teens begin to crack open the doors to their private worlds, a very tender love story begins, a story so unlikely that they hesitate to admit it even to themselves, let alone their classmates or their family. Eleanor, in particular, lives in such extreme poverty and fear that shame keeps her from revealing any details of her life. As they share a love of music and comic books, their relationship becomes obvious to the outside world, and the world comes rushing in. Everyone has an opinion, some expected and some quite surprising. Tragically, they come to realize that people their age are powerless to control their own lives. However, they can make courageous— but painful— decisions.

The blistering language in parts of this book is entirely appropriate for the situation. Rowell’s brilliant writing packs an emotional wallop, and you will become completely invested in the characters, despising some and treasuring others. The plot unfolds slowly, building tension and dread. The voice alternates between the two main characters, allowing the reader to experience life and love with both of them. Since I listened to the audiobook, I have to give kudos to the readers, Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra— especially Sunil. I cannot imagine Park with any other voice, and now I want to listen to everything Mr. Malhotra has ever narrated.

Eleanor and Park is definitely at the top of my list of teen fiction so far this year. Although written for teens, I can’t imagine an adult who would not appreciate it even more, particularly because the adult characters are fully fleshed out, which is not typical in young adult literature.  If you don’t object to the language, go right now and buy it or put it on hold at your library.

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


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