Books 31-42 of 2012: Young Adult, Diana Wynne Jones, Sarah Vowell, John Greene, Shel Silverstein, Wo
Lia and Cassie make a pact to be the skinniest girls in school. But their destructive eating disorders take their toll, and Cassie is found dead in a motel room. Lia, discharged for the second time from the clinic, must deal with her life: parents, school, step-sister, and the ghosts that Cassie has left behind. Anderson's poetic, semi-fairy tale prose perfectly and tragically captures Lia's emotional state, a tortured soul trapped in a tortured body. A subject not tackled enough in teen literature, Anderson writes strongly, painfully about eating disorders and cutting, capturing a lost voice trapped in addiction. Anderson provides no easy answers or adult didactic lectures, but just the voice of a tragic, flawed and broken character. Beautiful, sad, real, though, I wish the recovery/happy ending was given more than a couple pages. Grade: A-
"Religion is important whether or not we believed in one, in the same way that historical events are important whether or not you personally lived through them."
"It's not life or death, the labyrinth…suffering. Doing wrong and having wrong things happen to you. That's the problem…pain, not about the living or dying. How do you get out of the labyrinth of suffering."
"I am not a coward, but I am so strong. So hard to die."~Merriwether Lewis' final words
"It's very beautiful over there." ~Thomas Edison's last words.
"I'm bored with it all." ~Winston Churchill's last words.
"Turn up the lights. I don't want to go home in the dark." ~O. Henry's last words.
"At some point, we all look up and realize we are lost in a maze."
"We are greater than the sum of our parts… and that part has to go somewhere, because it cannot be destroyed."
32. Looking for Alaska by John Green (221 pages)
Pudge, obsessed with last words, goes away to boarding school, looking for the Great Perhaps, and makes friends with the Colonel and Alaska, the latter is a spunky, eccentric woman that quickly captures his heart and mind. After a fatal car crash, Pudge is left alone to contemplate the meaning of life and death. John Green always turns cliched teenage drama literature (the death of a friend, the unobtainable wacky chick) into beautiful poetry that actually has meaning. Rather than allowing the death of a tormented, brilliant soul like Alaska, to come at the end of the novel, as a sort of "gotcha", it comes in the middle, an epicenter to the whole book. Rather than sugar coating and spoon-feeding meaning to the readers, John Green presents the struggle with religion, philosophy, life, and death, without easy answers, but an appreciation of both the young reader and the world as it is. Not his best book, to be sure, but, still thought-provoking and powerful. Grade: A-
33. Emperor of the Food Chain (Wondermark) by David Malki! (111 pages)
Yet another hilarious collection of Wondermark comics, which are always a surreal ride into the bizarre, true, and hysterical. Furthermore, often poignant and intelligent. Best part is, the book is loaded with even more funny bonus crap. Best comic ever! Grade: A+
"I tried on the summer sun,
Nice and warm--knew it would.
Tried the grass beneath bare feet,
Finally, finally felt well dressed,
Nature's clothes just fit me best."
34. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein (170 pages)
Brilliant, charming, sweet, silly, ridiculous, lyrical, profound, imaginative, and childlike poetry from the master, Silverstein. Chock full of word play and the illogical logic, full of depth and feeling, comedy and beauty. Loved them as a child, appreciate them even more deeply now. Grade: A+
35. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (166 pages)
Brilliant, charming, adorable, ridiculous, grotesque, lyrical, enchanting, imaginative, and Wonderlandesque and in the tradition of Aesop, perfectly capturing the illogical nature of childhood, this is probably my favorite collection of Silverstein's poetry, but it is so hard to chose just one. Silverstein is not only the best children's poet of all time, not only one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, but, one of the greatest poets of all time. His silly, sweet, playful poetry utterly sings right to the profound nature of childhood, imagination, nature, and life. Grade: A+
36. A Mystery for Thoreau by Kin Platt (162 pages)
Sixteen year old Oliver, a reporter in Concord Mass in 1846, investigates a murder and missing woman, coming into contact with the town's famous residents (Thoreau, Emerson, Alcott, the transcendentalists). Though better than most young adult historical novels, it does fall into the familiar trap of being a catalogue of historic characters who seem to just randomly spout soundbites without having a personality, while also failing to have much of a storyline. The mystery and writing is not quite appropriate for young readers. Which is too bad, as the premise and history had such potential. Grade: C
"I suppose the double-sided way I see the history of Hawaii--as a painful tale of native loss combined with an idealistic multiethnic saga symbolized by mixed plates in which soy sauce and mayonnaise peacefully coexist and congeal--tracks with how I see the history of the United States in general… Growing up, I came to know America as two places--a rapacious country built on the destruction of its original inhabitants, and a welcoming land of opportunity and generosity built by people who shared their sausage and their cheese."
"Scrape off every irritating trait that mars [the missionaries]--xenophobia, condescension, spiritual imperialism, and self-righteous disdain--and they have an astonishing aptitude for kinship and public-spirited love."
"Our greatest goodness and our worst impulses come out of this missionary zeal, contributing to our overbearing (yet not entirely unwarranted) sense of our country as an inherently helpful force in the world."
"In Hawaii, where the sailors as well as the missionaries, most of them born within 150 miles of Boston Harbor, established a new front of America's time-honored culture was halfway around the world."
"But, if history teaches us anything, upper-class white guys can be exceedingly touchy about taxation."
"I wonder what [Queen Liliuokalani] would have thought if she had known, witnessing that inaugural parade, that 112 years later, the first Hawiian-born president of the United States would be inaugurated and in his parade the marching band from Punahou School, his alma mater (and that of her enemies), would serenade the new president by playing a song she had written, 'Aloha 'Oe'."
37. Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell (236 pages)
America's bizarre and problematic relationship with Hawaii, starting with the New England missionaries, continuing with the capitalist sugar and pineapple plantations, and ending eventually with the annexation of Hawaii by an increasingly imperialistic United States, is a microcosm of the complexities, tragedies, horrors, and greatness of America's history, particularly its relationship with the native cultures and peoples of the land it occupies. Vowell, as always, perfectly captures history with an engaging conversational, yet in-depth, way. Her greatest talent is her genius ability to make history so fluid and real. Historical characters become real people under her pen, people that are still alive and kicking us in the present, and from the deepest recesses of time. She writes as if she went on a trip and chatted with them all. Which makes their stories at once so heartbreakingly, aggravatingly, real. We cannot judge them, because we understand them, we see them as painfully human, painfully American, and, because of that, we also hate them. Vowell brilliantly, wonderfully portrays this oxymoronic nature of history in general and American history in particular. Here, it is the painful fact that Americans brought literacy and the hope of all the grand ideals of democracy to a country that was plagued by class and war, but Americans gave it at the cost of a beautiful culture that lived in harmony with its beautiful land. Grade: A
"We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty, disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!"
"My birthday present! It came to me on my birthday, my precious."
"The sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but have never before used or wanted."
"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."
38. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (317 pages)
The book that defined a generation of fantasy and fantasy clichés, though deeply rooted in a rich literary history of heroic journeys, concerns the quest for treasure of a little Hobbit, 13 dwarves, and a wizard. Though it lacks the powerful poetry of Lord of the Rings, its prose is that of a charming bedtime story, but with all the cleverness and antiquity of Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Bilbo is a wonderful character, now a cliché of the genre, the unwilling, comedic, yet wise and brave hero. And, though Tolkien falls into flat characters based on race, many of his characters, particularly Thorin (a flawed, yet heroic, character), defy classification. Bilbo and Gollum, are in fact, very childlike; two sides of the child: the greedy, selfish child, and the selfless, adventuring, heroic child. One grows up through adventures; one horrifically stagnates. Many of the scenes, particularly the Riddles in the Dark and the final ending, are the quintessential Tolkien: thoroughly engaging, deceptively simple, and totally, utterly brilliant. A fairy tale, hero tale that is a classic for a reason, even if it is just a book to curl up with with a cup of tea and a quilt. Grade: A-
39. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones (234 pages)
Jones (one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time) pulls a Pratchett in her dictionary of the Fantasy genres tropes, but with her own unique and clever sense of humor. A nonfiction version of her Darklord of Derkholm, which is a satire of the fantasy genres. A funny must-read for all fantasy readers and writers (or those that pretend to be such). Grade: A-
40. An Idiot Girl's Christmas by Laurie Notaro (142 pages)
Read this book so many times, but it's still hilarious. Notaro is the best at being real and hilarious, the absolute Queen of Hyperbole. Perfectly captures the hilarity of the season.
41. Monster by Walter Dean Myers (281 pages)
Steve Harmon is on trial for his life, and, the only way he can deal with it is so record it all as a film (thus the novel takes the form of a screenplay). Harmon is accused of being the lookout in a drugstore robbery that went bad. Great young adult courtroom drama (similar to 12 Angry Men) that is a character study in at-risk youth, racism, and the legal and prison system. Great, engaging, accessible book for young readers, particularly those that are at risk. Grade: A-
"We all fall on the spectrum of behavior somewhere."
"It's easier when things are black and white."
"I put the sketchbook on my lap and open my new box of colors. Now I'm ready to use them because I figured out how I'm going to draw the whole complete picture."
42. Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (235 pages)
There are a lot of brilliant and beautiful books out there that capture to perspective of children with autism and/or Asberger's (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Anything But Typical), but this book--though it does this well--goes way beyond that, and uses the medium of a child with special needs to illustrate the special needs within all of us. Reminding me more of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury than route didactic young adult fiction, Mockingbird works on so many levels, but, most fundamentally, the difficulty of the human mind to comprehend tragedy and loss. It encompasses the entire spectrum of human experience when it comes to something so deeply and horrifically tragic as a school shooting, all through the "distanced", but all-so-involved voice of a child with Asberger's. Caitlyn, as she tries to find "closure", uses poetry and a system of metaphor and allegory (the truest power of literature and knowledge), to make sense of and heal her world. A book that English teachers will love and will bring tears to everyone. More profound and necessary now than ever. Thank you so much for this book. Grade: A
2012 Page Total: 13497