real-talk YA book reviews

Monthly Archives: August 2014

        nbf sign

          I was browsing Facebook yesterday morning as I so often do when I saw someone talking in passing about plans to attend the National Book Festival.

          Naturally, my reaction was “National Book Festival?! Why did nobody tell me, and when do I leave?”

          Upon further research, I determined that the National Book Festival was a free event hosted by the Library of Congress and taking place all day in the Washington, DC convention center, extremely convenient to my university. I was disappointed to read the list of attending authors and found I had heard of only one; it would not be a starstriking-encounter, but I was still eager to congregate with a nation’s worth of other book aficionados, so I rounded up some companions and we successfully navigated the Metro downtown.

con center          The experience started out strong: we had been inside the center less than a minute when we were offered free posters, green with a reading crescent-moon on them. I just got some new posters to decorate my side of the dorm room, so I was very much in a poster mindset and thrilled with the boon.

          Unfortunately, however, as we got deeper into the building, we began to sense a lack of pertinent activities. Most of what was going on was signings for the attending authors–understandable, but again, none of the names meant much to me–, and selling of their particular books.

nbf          There were a number of panels on the schedule as well, which probably would have been interesting, but being college students, we had gotten a late enough start to the day that a lot of things had already happened.

          To further the iffiness, when we visited the food court, we found the options were both exorbitantly priced (typical for a convention center) and limited. Also, the vending machine was out of water, and ate two of my dollars.

          There was still the central reason I had come, though, and that was a youth poetry slam at six pm. So at 5:45, we joined a large crowd on the main floor and funneled into a large room with a stage set up at the front. All the chairs were taken, so we nabbed spots on the floor near the front where the view wasn’t blocked and settled in to wait (me flopping around every few minutes, because my leg circulation and the ground have never mixed well).

          The slam was very cool. For the first round, all the performers were prompted to slam about topics related to books and reading; for the second round the topic was open. One girl described a controlling ex-boyfriend in an extended Pinocchio metaphor. A guy in a graphic t-shirt, who ended up the champion of the night, rallied against the prevalence of writers and artists being questioned about their “Plan B”. A girl with a blue cast on her arm provided a manifesto against Twilight, which made me realize how tired I am of discussions of Twilight—a loaded fact which probably deserves a post of its own at some point in the future, if I can reconcile myself to creating, well, another discussion of Twilight.

           I always enjoy listening to slam poetry, holding out anticipation for that one poem, that one line, that will send that chill of truth and electricity through me. I realized during the show that I’ve been noticing a trend over the past year of recorded slam poems on relevant social issues circulating the internet. I think that’s awesome. Poetry, and really any form of commentary that sells as its own product beyond just the message it’s promoting, can be such a powerful way to make people truly think about things in a new way, and remember it.

          I was fairly inspired to try writing my own pieces of spoken word; I do love writing “page” poetry, after all. But so often the mark of a good slam performance is outward intensity, almost anger, and I struggle to imagine myself expressing that kind of intensity about anything. I’m a soft-spoken person, and my life has been fortunate enough not to provide me with many personal experiences I could get riled up about. I don’t know. I know there are different styles of slam poets.. I’ll just have to see.

          There was a panel I was interested in called “Great Books to Great Movies”, but my friend had to get home to meet somebody at nine, so we headed out. We agreed that the event overall had felt less like a book con, or a social gathering of bookish people for assorted activities, and more like a very focused arrangement for services related to the authors that were there—get in, buy books and get them signed, and leave. However, this impression might have been different if we had gotten there earlier and attended more of the panels that were offered.

          Despite not being exactly what we had imagined, it wasn’t a wasted day. I’m glad to say I was there, and I gained some confidence about the Metro, as well as learning how to get to the convention center, which could be useful if my fellow Tumblr-type geeks ever assemble there for an anime con or something. Plus, I astonishingly ran into my high school genetics teacher, who moved to DC the same time I did to take a new job. I couldn’t believe the coincidence. And of course, the poetry slam was enough alone to make the trip worthwhile.

          The whole experience made me even more eager to potentially get to BookCon 2015. Irritatingly, although the trip to NYC by train would be vastly easier from here than my hometown, it will take place when I’m already home for the summer. A lot of cons this year are skipping around my travel schedule in the least accommodating ways. But I may have to find a way to attend even so.

           Any other NBF attendees out there? How was your day?


let it snow

Enjoyability:      smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp half gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 352   Copyright: 2008

The blurb: “Sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. Thanks to three of today’s bestselling teen authors—John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle—the magic of the holidays shines on these hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and breathtaking kisses.”

               Hey, everybody! I’m college now! I’m posting this from my dorm as my dream catcher lays on the desk beside me because my command hook wasn’t man enough to stay on my cinderblock wall. If anybody knows of a satanic substance that will stick to the unstickable, please let me know, because this situation is unnacceptable. But anyhoo, on to the book. 

                Let It Snow was not as mushy as the blurb makes it sound. The only author of the three that I had any past experience with was John Green, but Johnson and Myracle passed the test—they fit in easily at the lunch table of the witty and talented YA writers that I already know and love.

                I liked and felt a connection to all three of the protagonists, and all three of the love stories were excellently fresh and strong— there’s a case to be made for formulaic swoony romances, but these connections weren’t those. Myracle’s story was the closest to that swoony zone, and I’ve been given to understand that some readers found it the weakest of the three, but I thought it was sincerely sweet and dodged clichés as well as the other two.

                The interweaving of the three stories was also very well and naturally done. If this book had been sold as the work of a single author, I think I would have believed it. Each story had its own flavor, but they tossed together into a tastefully cohesive salad. With the added bonus of the snowy, hot-chocolatey winter theme, this is the perfect pick for cold blanket-pile days and summery imaginings alike.

Special Awards:

sqee  Squee for romantic prowess.

comedy mask ROFL award because although I didn’t laugh out loud a lot, there was a lot of witty humor, especially in Green’s section.

What’s super fun and closing in three days? The I’ll Be the Judge Flash Fiction Flash Contest! You still have time to send me a super-short story!

Hey folks– only ten days left to submit your flash fiction for a shot at 50% off your purchase of Scrivener and publication here on I’ll Be the Judge! Get scribbling!

queen geekEnjoyability:     smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp graysmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts:brain2brain2half brain outlinebrain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 319  Copyright: 2006

          The blurb: If you’re somebody like Shelby Chappelle, a smart, witty, pretty geek army of one, you can’t just put a poster up at school and advertise for somebody to be your best friend. But now freakishly tall Becca Gallagher has moved to town, with her dragon tattoo and wild ideas. Suddenly Shelby’s mad scientist father and their robot, Euphoria, seem normal. They become best friends instantly. But Becca wants to shake things up at school and look for “others of our kind”…and decides to form the Queen Geek Social Club. The thing is, this guy Fletcher Berkowitz keeps nosing around, asking lots of questions about the Club. He’s cute, and interesting, and possibly likes Shelby. Therefore, she must torture him. One good thing about being a loner: no one can break your heart.” (NOTE: this book is actually the first in a trilogy, though it pretty much stands on its own.)

          I read the first few pages of The Queen Geek Social Club in a second-hand bookstore and was immediately captivated by Shelby. She was a girl who embodied a certain combination of traits that creators of fiction are too often unwilling to allow coexistence: interested in dating and relatively traditionally feminine, on the outskirts of high school society, and confident and powerful. And that’s pretty much the premise of the book: girls organizing to be powerful feminine geeks.

          In practice, the story had a certain safeness that kept it from reaching the full battle cry of edginess that girl-crusaders can rally behind. The problem is that I couldn’t fully buy in to Shelby (and her friends)’s geekhood. There were references to her liking old sci-fi movies, and each of her friends had their “thing”—colorful hair, intensely Type-A personality, passion for dark poetry—but I felt more like I was being told they were eccentric and expected to believe it than actually being shown the money. I would have liked their characters to have delved deeper beyond simple stock-quirk appearances and to have seemed like more genuine representations of the many kinds of girl that feel high school is not their turf.

          Even so, the heart was definitely in the right place in this book, and the message was, overall, executed in a way that I loved. The Queen Geeks recognized the pitfalls of teen girl life and fought against them without attempting to force themselves unnaturally in the other direction. Preble gives them permission to be everything: susceptible to the allure of cute boys, but determined not to change to impress them or to allow their lives to revolve around them. Put off by the negative messages of fashion magazines, but still inclined to spend a little too long choosing the perfect ensemble for an important social event. Smart, but not always glued to a textbook.

          Both Shelby and Becca’s difficulties with their family situations added depth to them and highlighted their complexities. Despite not really having that much in common with Shelby, I actually related to her a lot. I really enjoyed the friendship between the two, and I enjoyed waiting to see what Becca’s next Geek campaign would be, and how the group’s image in the eyes of the school would evolve.

          There was a slight packaged flavor to this book that kept it from fully blowing up for me, but there was a positivity, sweetness, and sense of fun that made me glad I read it.

          Don’t forget to send me your super-short story for the Flash Fiction Flash Contest!