1 2 3

Staff Picks Audience: Teens

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On reads like a compact and quirky alternative Harry Potter. The parallels are impossible to miss. Our protagonist had no knowledge of the magical world until he was discovered and brought to a magic school where he quickly makes friends and begins a series of fantastic adventures. We have characters who clearly have analogs in Harry, Hermione, Draco, Hagrid, and Voldemort, and there are more subtle references as well. Carry On is more than an homage, however. It is an engaging fantasy with good world building and a satisfying plot. Many aspects of the book simply seem better than they have to be, which is delightful. The story is told from a number of viewpoints, each of which satisfyingly reveals something different about the characters. (The everchanging dynamic between our protagonist Simon and his rival Baz is a driving force in the book, and the contrast between their individual perspectives is part of what makes the book work so well.) The world is well thought out with complex politics and an intriguing, novel, and entertaining magic system. And Carry On is compact—it is as if Rowling had decided to tell the entire Harry Potter story in a single Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone sized volume that concentrated mainly on Harry’s last year, only touchiching upon earlier adventures in brief flashbacks.

 

Tagged: , , , ,

Lives Worth Living []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

When I went to the Northampton Senior Center for a special Northampton Commission on Disability screening of Lives Worth Living I didn’t know anything about the film or its subject the disability rights movements. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the film was not just informative, but a well-crafted and incredibly moving introduction to the subject that left me eager to learn more.

At just 54 minutes in length, Lives Worth Living is too short to be more than an introduction to the story of disability rights (which it traces from the polio epidemics of the early twentieth century and the treatment of disabled veterans up to the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990), but it makes excellent use of the time it has. We briefly learn about the discrimination and negative attitudes faced by the people with disabilities who were too often assumed to be without potential or worth. We briefly learn about the shocking maltreatment of people with mental disorders and about the Willowbrook State School and the abuses that occurred there and at similar institutions throughout the country. We learn about the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and other early legislation, but more importantly we learn about the advocates who pushed to expand protections for the disabled, unifying diverse groups (associations for the blind, the physically handicapped, mental patients and others), and how disability rights became recognized as civil rights. And we learn about the protesters—the individuals who occupied buildings, locked themselves to bus shelters, and even crawled and pulled their way up the capitol steps to make their message heard.

Lives Worth Moving is a powerful film, well worth watching and relevant to us all. I cannot recommend it enough.

Tagged: , , , ,

Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Eisner award winner Taiyo Matsumoto’s semi-autobiographical account of the Star Kids orphanage is hands down the greatest unsung hero of contemporary manga currently being published. Why this book has not shown up on more “Best Of” and “Required Reading” lists is a puzzle, and I can only hope that this small dispatch might somehow get these books into more hands. The 6 volumes of Sunny (5 currently available – part 6 to be published any day now!) follow the day to day happenings at the Star Kids home – with each chapter showcasing one of the disparate, displaced children and their caretakers. These are mostly simple stories: the new kid tries to settle into his new home, dinner time arguments about what to watch on t.v., the fallout from a white lie about a cup… but what makes them special is Matsumoto’s ability through his poetic mastery of the language of comics to instill something stronger than empathy – the reader is actually transported into the hazy logic of youth through the combination of pictures and words.

The following chapter titles, one from each volume, hint at the simple majesty at work:
Chapter 2: “Why’re Dracula’s fingernails so long?” “‘Cause he doesn’t cut ’em.”
Chapter 12: “The city always seems angry.” “Like it’s shoutin’ ‘HEY!’ or somethin’?”
Chapter 17: “If I had my own department store, I’d make every floor for toys.” “That’s just a big toy store.”
Chapter 24: “Auoooh.” “Waaaaa.”
Chapter 29: “You think a rainbow’s hot if you touch it?” “The blue part’s gotta be cold.”

These slice of life vignettes somehow manage to capture the elusive feelings and perspective of a child – treating all of their melancholy and frustration, as well as their elation, with an uncanny sympathetic tone – all through his evocative illustration style combining scratchy pen with spots of ink wash. The ambivalence of a runny nose, the proprietary daydream space of a broken down car (a Nissan Sunny 1200, for which the series takes its name), and the powerfully charged relic of a mother’s hand salve tin are all presented with what could only be considered magic. At some moment while reading (possibly during a characters’ first foray into shoplifting, or while everyone is scurrying to get out of an oncoming storm), through some sort of literary sleight of hand you’ll realize your heart has just been inextricably joined to the Star Kids’ lives and will potentially need some mending when you flip closed the last page.

Beautifully designed and printed as part of Viz’s Signature Editions, these small hardcovers are given the proper presentation to contain the deeply affecting stories held within.

Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto

Tagged: , , ,

Ball of Fire by Howard Hawks []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

In this delightful romantic comedy Gary Cooper plays Bertram Potts, the youngest of eight professors who have lived together for years, devoting their time to the production of a new encyclopedia. When a trash collector asks the professors for help answering questions for a trivia contestd Bertram is baffled by the garbageman’s language and realizes his article on American on slang is badly out of date. In order to correct this he must leave his reference books behind in order to do some research in the field.

Bertram’s field research brings him in contact with Sugarpuss O’Shea, a witty and jocular nightclub performer portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck. Sugarpuss has no interest in helping Bertram with his research until her mob-boss boyfriend gets in trouble and she needs a place to hide from the police. What better place to hide than among these quiet and respectable professors?

Having taken refuge with the encyclopedists, Sugarpuss delights in teasing the stodgy Bertram and soon makes friends with the other professors (who, unlike Bertram, enjoy her company from the beginning). Bertram, however, worries that her presence will interfere with progress on the encyclopedia. “Now, when the Foundation launched our vessel”, he proclaims, “it very wisely followed an old rule of the sea, no women aboard. It chose a crew of single men with nothing to distract them from the course they were to sail.” Sugarpuss recognizes this as nonsense, but can’t risk a fight under the circumstances. Still, it is with evident sarcasm that she offers “to sit on her legs”.

Bertram almost redeems himself when he replies, “Make no mistake, I shall regret the absence of your keen mind”. However, he continues with, “unfortunately, it is inseparable from an extremely disturbing body.”, a statement which comes across as almost redeeming—Bertram wasn’t concerned for the sake of the other professors, but for himself. Fate will, however, keep Sugarpuss and the professor together, and despite flying wisecracks and bullets (remember the mob-boss boyfriend?) they soon grow to enjoy each other’s company.

Stanwyck’s Sugarpuss is refreshingly strong, independent, and easily the most complex character in the film. Gary Cooper’s Bertram is understated and reserved. Many of the characters come across as cartoonish, which is just what you want from the supporting characters in a screwball comedy. The dialogue is fast and witty and, of course, full of period slang, familiar and not.

By the way, Ball of FIre would later be remade as the musical A Song is Born starring Danny Kaye. The dialogue in the two films is in large parts identical, despite the different scenario and very different portrayals. Folks who have seen A Song is Born will be relieved to know that in Ball of Fire the dialogue actually makes sense!

Tagged: , , , , , , ,

The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Marie Phillips, author of the delicious satire Gods Behaving Badly, now turns her gift for parody on the legends of King Arthur and his knights of Camelot. It’s a bit of Terry Pratchett meets Jane Austen meets The Princess Bride. The underdogs at Camelot are the heroes of this comic novel: Sir Humphrey of the Table of Less Valued Knights (the rectangular one in the draftiest corner, where they only get leftovers and watered-down wine) takes up a quest to find a damsel’s missing fiancé. Meanwhile in the neighboring kingdom, the freshly-minted and unwilling Queen Martha runs away from her destiny while another knight is tasked with bringing her back to the exceptionally unpleasant Prince-Consort-who-wants-to-be-King Edwin. Nobody is quite what they appear, except perhaps the elephant Jemima. Even the Lady of the Lake is a substitute, annoyed with having to hold on to the magic sword while the original Lady has run off with Merlin. Full of wit, surprises and off-the-wall characters, this contemporary re-visioning of medieval myths is a lot of fun.

Tagged: , ,

The Diviners by Libba Bray []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

An enchanting mystery that will have you on the edge of your seat until the very end! A dark story of the supernatural set in 1920s New York City. Speakeasies, theater, jazz and plenty of twenties slang to keep you giggling.

The story follows a young woman named Evie O’Neill who possesses a power she just can’t explain. After Evie’s brother dies, she is sent to New York City to live with her uncle, a professor of the occult. A chilling murder takes place and Evie’s uncle is called in to help the police investigate the mysterious circumstances. Could Evie’s power help solve this disturbing mystery?

Bray’s characters will stay with you long after you finish reading. Stay tuned for the second book in this series, Lair of Dreams.

Tagged: , , , , , ,

Hidden by Loïc Dauvillier []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Memories of being hidden, and keeping those memories hidden… A grandmother tells a special story from her childhood in this touching graphic novel about being young during World War II.

Douina’s lives with her mother and father in Paris. Her life is relatively normal until she is made to wear a star on her jacket. Her father had told her it was a sheriff’s star but everyone begins to treat her differently. Soon her parents are taken away to work camps and Douina is left to be cared for by neighbors and kind strangers. As she settles into her new life and new name, Simone, she can’t help but miss her mother and father. Once the war has ended and it is safe again, she travels back home and begins the search for her parents.

This book offers children a glimpse into the past- what it was like to be young during WWII and how some children and families were affected by the Holocaust in France. Words by Loïc Dauvillier and art by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo

Tagged: , , ,

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Award winning author Jason Reynolds is a masterful storyteller. Through his book, When I Was the Greatest, Reynolds shows us something of the nuances of family life in an urban African American community and exposes the spaces where love, family, and community are strong. Ali’s family is not typical, but there is no typical family. Ali lives in Bed Stuy, New York with his mother, Doris and his sister, Jazz. Jazz is famous for giving nicknames and she gave Ali his name after Muhommad Ali. Jazz also named Ali’s best friends and neighbors Needles and Noodles. Ali grapples with the complexities of life in Bed Stuy and knows he needs to keep on track and stay out of trouble because his mother Doris makes that very clear. This book is so engaging and authentic it will hook even the most reluctant teen reader.

Tagged: , , , ,

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

This book was amazing! The twists on the original Rapunzel and the strong female lead make for an amazing read! It still has some of the original aspects, but a lot has been changed.

Tagged:

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

This is a fun book, the kind that pulls you in and keeps you turning the pages. If you read it in a public place, however, you are likely to be interrupted by fans of the book who cannot help themselves and are eager to share their enthusiasm. Once I was even told, “I’m so jealous that you are reading it for the first time! I will never get to do that again!”

The Name of the Wind is a fantasy novel, and, to tell the truth, much of its plot sticks close to the cliches of the genre. A young boy discovers an aptitude for magic, learns all he can those around him, overcomes many obstacles, is accepted into a university where he excels beyond expectation, and goes on to do great things. And the hero, Kvothe, must, of course, confront a great evil, one that he takes seriously while those around him consider it only a fairy tale. Unlike most such stories, however, Kvothe, is a musician, and his changing relationship to his music is important throughout the book.

The world is richly built, full of detail, and the mechanics of its magic feel far more convincing than those in many other fantasies. The story is told from the perspective of an older Kvothe, now an innkeeper, who has done much since the events of the story he tells, but who has much more to do and learn as well. (This is the first book in a trilogy, after all.) Upon finishing the book you are left hungering for two stories—what happened to the young Kvothe in the stories, and what will happen to the innkeeper Kvothe, who you sense has much, much more in store for him.

Tagged:

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Negin Farsad is playful and intentional in her reading of this beautifully tragic love story by Sara Farizan. Sahar and her best friend Nasrin have grown up together in a world where homosexuality is a crime. They know they are in love, but they must hide their romance from everyone in their lives. Their romantic feelings for one another become even more dangerous when Nasrin is engaged to marry a man. Sahar must deal with Nasrin’s engagement and the loss of their own romantic relationship, but this is not easy for her. The feelings she has are so strong and there is no safe way for her to talk about them or express them. Sahar makes a drastic decision that she hopes will save her relationship with Nasrin, but how far will she go to be with the woman she loves? Will she ever get over her first love? What’s more, how will she continue to pursue her career goals and take care of her father while being true to herself?

Tagged: , , , , , ,

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Johnny Heller narrates exactly the way you imaged Charlie’s voice while reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Charlie’s matter-of-fact tone and use of direct language juxtaposes with the intensity of his experiences and the sometimes stunning depth of his observations. Anyone who has been 15 knows that navigating friends, family, and high school can run the gambit from terrifying to exhilarating. Charlie is figuring out how to be a person in the world. He is called a freak, he experiences pain and love and every emotion in between. I highly recommend both the print book and the audio book to adult and teen readers. And while I’m at it, the movie is pretty great too!

Tagged: , , , , ,