Forgive Me Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

The first day of school is imminent and this new YA book is one that I want to make sure all high school teachers place in their classroom library. What Speak did for awareness of sexual assault, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock will do for teen suicide and depression. It’s a must read for every teacher. It’s not an easy read by any means, but it is an important one.

It’s Leonard Peacock’s 18th birthday and he is prepared to end his life.  But before he does that he packs a gun in his backpack and makes a plan to kill his former best friend.  It’s about Leonard’s last day on earth and it’s intense, heartbreaking, and gut-wrenching. I won’t tell you more because you need to meet Leonard and get to know him in order to fully appreciate the story.

I read Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock in one sitting and it was intense.  Quick’s writing will make you uncomfortable and you might want to put the book down.  Don’t.  It’s vital that you finish Leonard’s story and that you listen to all of the characters.  They are well-written and realistic– even the less-than-perfect characters.  There are no easy answers for Leonard or those around him, just like there are no easy answers in life.  And that’s why this book is so important.

 

A must-have for all high school libraries and a must-read for adults who work with teenagers.  Be aware that there are swear words liberally scattered throughout the pages, but they are important to the voice of the characters.  This is a book about very important issues- school violence, suicide, bullying– and those issues are life-altering.  The language fits and it’s appropriate.

My #alayma Predictions!

When You Reach Me won the 2010 Newbery Medal.

At 11am EST/8am PST the ALA Youth Media Awards will begin. I will be hunkered down in my classroom with a few students (hopefully!), watching the awards as they unfold over our lunch. Every year I set a goal for myself- read the Newbery, and now the Printz, Award winner and honor books before they are announced. So here goes again…..my predictions for this year. These are in no particular order and I don’t pretend to know what will take home the gold as opposed to an honor. These are just the books I expect/hope to see honored later today!

Newbery:
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Printz:
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Boy21 by Matthew Quick
The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

 

Can’t wait to see if I get any of them right! What are you predicting will take home a sticker?

The Cybils are Here! The Cybils are Here!

It’s Cybils Day!

Today is one of my favorite days of the year- the finalists for the Cybils Awards have been posted! Be sure to check out the finalists in the all of the categories, but I am especially proud of the finalists in the YA category.  My fellow panelists and I worked really hard to come up with this list and I think it’s pretty awesome.  There were 191 books nominated in our category and we read and debated them all.  It was a hectic few months (and I’m excited to read some non-YA books now that I have time), but well worth it.  The whole experience culminated in a fast-paced Googlechat that was over 3 hours long last week.  It was insane, but in an awesome way.

 

And with that, I present to you the 2012 YA Finalists!  Good luck to the next round of judges; I am not at all envious of your position.  ;)

 

2012 Finalists
Young Adult Fiction

Boy21

by Matthew Quick
Little, Brown

Nominated by: DLacks

Boy21 got game. And that game is basketball, as played diligently by narrator Finley, sublimely by his girlfriend Erin, and almost supernaturally by the titular Boy21, also known as Russell Allen. Boy21 also has heart, as it explores loyalty, friendship, class and racial differences, and the way the past impinges on the present. But most importantly, Boy21 has soul, as all three main characters work to free themselves from the constraints and grief that dominate their lives, threatening to prevent them from becoming who they truly are. So much more than a sports book, Boy21 speaks to our common humanity, and to the notion that we must not live our desires, nor our fears, in silence, lest we lose our humanity.

– William Polking, Guys
Lit Wire

Code Name Verity

by Elizabeth Wein
Hyperion

Nominated by: Ana @ things mean a lot

A harrowing and riveting tale of best friends who find themselves at the center of the British war effort in World War II, Code Name Verity defies simple categorization. Verity, a female spy for the British, makes a simple mistake while on assignment in German-occupied France and is captured by the Germans. While being tortured for information on the British war effort, she begins to write her confession. An unreliable narrator, the depiction of a strong female friendship, extraordinary prose, and allusions to Peter Pan make this novel a standout. A tour de force of a novel, Code Name Verity is multi-layered and heartbreaking. It’s a book that will leave you whispering “Kiss me hardy. Kiss me quick,” and turning back to page one to begin an immediate reread.

– Sarah Gross, The Reading Zone

Endangered

by Eliot Schrefer
Scholastic

Nominated by: 145lewis

Endangered follows a teen on her annual summer trip home to the Democratic Republic of Congo to visit her conservationist mother. When civil war erupts in the nation’s capital, Sophie finds herself on the run with a young bonobo ape named Otto. She navigates a war-torn country while struggling to protect her charge from a starving population. In a story that highlights inhumane behavior, we come to appreciate the communal problem-solving of the bonobos and the kindness of strangers along Sophie’s escape route. And at the end of this short novel, readers of all ages will find themselves speeding to the Internet and the library to learn more about these shy, matriarchal primates.

– Kirstin Fearnley, Sprite
Writes

I Hunt Killers

by Barry Lyga
Little, Brown

Nominated by: Kelia

A body shows up in a field outside of town, setting into motion a series of events all too familiar for Jasper “Jazz” Dent, son of murderer Billy Dent and the public’s favored heir to Billy’s legacy of ruthless horror. Jazz, concerned they may be right, starts to investigate the murder, using skills learned from his father. Jazz’s constant questioning about nature, nurture and, ultimately, destiny, combined with the hunt to stop a possible serial killer, make for a thrilling and deliciously scary read. Although the book contains a large amount of gore, the blood is never gratuitous and occasionally comes from Jazz’s hemophiliac best friend–and one of the panel’s favorite characters–Howie. Part true crime, horror and psychological thriller, the atmospheric and moody I Hunt Killers explores the dark, creepy corners of being raised by an infamous serial killer.

– Kellie Tilton, The Re-Shelf

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

by Jesse Andrews
Amulet

Nominated by: Leila Roy

This is not your average cancer book. Narrator Greg wants readers to believe that he’s totally unlikable, but it doesn’t take long to see that his almost violent self-hatred is a coping mechanism for his mess of a life. As Greg navigates his senior year of high school, he also deals with the fact that his mother guilt-trips him into hanging out with the very ill Rachel, the changing nature of his friendship with Earl–a very short, chain-smoking African-American classmate, and the fact that college (and real life) is waiting just around the corner. This frequently hilarious and absolutely heartfelt debut by Jesse Andrews provides incredibly snarky, completely self-aware narration (“This entire paragraph is a moron,” Greg states at one point), fully realized characters, and a great deal of depth.

– Clementine Bojangles, Early
Nerd Special

Storyteller, The

by Antonia Michaelis
Abrams for Young Readers

Nominated by: Sommer Leigh

On the continuum of dark to light, light to heavy, Antonia Michaelis’ The Storyteller definitely resides on the dark/heavy end. But it’s also found on the gorgeous end of the scale, as it’s one of the most beautiful books we read this year: structurally, lyrically and emotionally. Flawlessly translated from German, The Storyteller is about a sheltered girl falling in love with a boy who is not only damaged, but possibly irrevocably lost. Michaelis incorporates Leonard Cohen’s lyrics into an atmospheric mystery that is reminiscent of the Grimm brothers, David Almond and Kevin Books. It’s tragic from beginning to end, but it’s also a fairy tale about love, forgiveness, innocence lost and innocence preserved.

– Leila Roy, Bookshelves of Doom

Theory of Everything, The

by J.J. Johnson
Peachtree

Publisher/ Author Submission

Johnson deftly blends humor and grief in this story of a teenager’s struggles to make sense of her best friend’s death. The witty chapter drawings (designed by Johnson) and main character Sarah’s pitch-perfect voice make The Theory of Everything compulsively readable, but the underlying veins of emotions—confusion, grief and even hope—keep this from feeling like lighter fare. Teens will understand Sarah’s desire to keep the world at bay with her “snarkbox,” but it’s the moments when Sarah puts aside the snark to truly face life that will leave a lasting impression. With a cast of characters that includes a tame possum, a wonder dog, and a maybe-creepy-maybe-misunderstood Christmas tree farmer, The Theory of Everything keeps readers guessing—and laughing—and crying—to the last page.

– Kendall Kulper, Blogging
for YA

Full STEAM Ahead with Eliot Schrefer, author of Endangered

Full STEAM Ahead

The past summer, I read Eliot Schrefer’s Endangered in one sitting.  (My review here). I’ve been thinking about it ever since, so when I decided to query authors for Full STEAM Ahead, Eliot immediately jumped to mind.  The research he conducted for the book took him all the way to a bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  You can’t get more hands-on in science than sitting amongst the bonobos and interacting with them and their caretakers! And what I really love is that the story began with Eliot researching where the name of his favorite store, Bonobos, originated.  Talk about real-life applications of research!

Eliot contributed some Q and A about the way science influenced his writing.  Specifically, he is here today to talk about the time he spent at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  He has even shared some video clips of the time he spent at the sanctuary!

Q: Did you make any surprising observations about bonobos at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary?

A: One thing I discovered while I was at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo was that the orphans really don’t like men. I’m a smaller guy, so they didn’t mind me too much, but whenever I had an orphan on my lap and one of the larger men on the staff—a gardener or a guard—would come over, the orphan would immediately be on his feet and crying for her surrogate mother to come over and hold her.

Of course, it was mostly likely men who came into the forest and killed that orphan’s mother. The young creatures receive so much love at the sanctuary, and have such a good time playing with one another, that it’s easy to forget where they all came from. But the immediate, visceral fear on an orphan’s face in the company of men made it all come back. They are 98.7% human, and extraordinarily sensitive. They’re as likely to forget about losing a parent as we would be.

Esperance Tsona and Anne-Marie Ngalula, surrogate mother and nurse, respectively, at Lola ya bonobo, Kinshasa. (Video taken by Eliot Schrefer.)

 

Q: Did it concern you to write about animal welfare in a country with so much human suffering?

A: Jane Goodall, who no doubt gets asked this question all the time, wrote a wonderfully articulate response in her memoir, Through a Window:

Often I am asked whether I do not feel that it is unethical to devote time to the welfare of ‘animals’ when so many human beings are suffering. Would it not be more appropriate to help starving children, battered wives, the homeless? Fortunately, there are hundreds of people addressing their considerable talents, humanitarian principles and fund-raising abilities to such causes. My own particular energies are not needed there. Cruelty is surely the very worst of human sins. To fight cruelty, in any shape or form— whether it be towards other human beings or non-human beings—brings us into direct conflict with that unfortunately streak of inhumanity that lurks in all of us. If only we could overcome cruelty with compassion we should be well on the way to creating a new and boundless ethic—one that would respect all living beings. We should stand at the threshold of a new era in human evolution—the realization, at last, of our most unique quality: humanity.

I feel like being a sensitive adult leading an examined life entails a low level of guilt— this nagging feeling that we’re not doing enough to help others, that there’s so much to be improved but no clear way to help. Normally that guilt can be ignored, but it’s brought to the surface when we face suffering directly. One of the ways to hide that guilt back away is to say that some sufferings are outranked by others and can therefore can be ignored. But that’s a sure route to not doing anything about any of them. At some point you have to trust in compassion and the support of others, that someone else might take care of the rest of the world’s woes if I help this specific creature in front of me.

Bonobos also serve as the ambassadors for a number of less adorable species. Congo has one-eighth of the world’s forests.1 By protecting them for the sake of the bonobos and chimpanzees and gorillas, we’re also protecting the insect, amphibian, reptile, plant, and mammal species that reside there. Benefitted, as well, are the tribes that live within the forests and steward a huge plant biomass that tempers global warming.

Bonobos at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary, outside of Kinshasa, using rocks to crack nuts. Video shot by Eliot Schrefer.

1Wolfire, D.M., J. Brunner and N. Sizer (1998) Forests and the Democratic Republic of Congo. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC.

I love that Eliot Schrefer devoted so much time to the biology and zoology of the bonobos, determined to get it right for the book. It was certainly worth it!  I knew very little about bonobos before reading Endangered, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since  I finished reading it.  The science and research aspects are so realistic and I imagine they will inspire many readers to learn more about the great apes.  Maybe Endangered will even guide some readers into conservation or zoology!  How great would that be- students reading about math, science, or engineering and then jumping into a career inspired by that reading!

But even if the reader doesn’t become a zoologist or an environmental scientist, Schrefer’s book (and the story behind the book) will bring the bonobos to the forefront in many readers’ minds.  STEM may seem like an overused buzzword, but it is vital that our students understand the world around them.  Reading about bonobos, an endangered species, will hopefully inspire our students to protect the world they will one day inherit.  And understanding science and conservation is vital to being someone those in charge listen to.  As English teachers, we can introduce our students to STEM, compassion, and empathy at the same time.

Be sure to check in next Thursday, when another author will be sharing their experiences with STEM and how it may have influenced their writing!

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer

Endangered won’t be released until October 1st, but I am publishing this early so that you can place your pre-orders now.  Endangered was hands-down the best book I read this summer.  I read it straight through, in the middle of the night, because I could not put it down.  The book made it’s way to the top of my TBR pile after I tweeted a request for realistic YA with a focus on science.  When a few Twitter pals recommended Eliot Schrefer’s upcoming book I remembered seeing a few mentions of the book at BEA back in May.  The ARC quickly climbed to the top of my TBR pile and I am very glad it did.  Like I said, it was my favorite book of the summer!

For those of you who don’t know me in real life, I am a science girl.  I went to a pre-engineering and science high school and spent my first year of college struggling to decide between English and biology as a major.  I was a part of Project SUPER during my freshman year in college, which “is an enrichment program for undergraduate women interested in pursuing the sciences, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.”  We visited labs all over campus, met with mentors, and participated in research.  In the end, I became an education major with a double major in English.  However, I am still a science girl at heart.  All you have to do is look at my involvement with the Monarch Teacher Network to know that!

Back on the subject of Endangered.  Books about animals, with a focus on biology or conservation, are my bread and butter.  For some reason, there is a severe lack of these books in YA.  (Other than dystopian, science fiction books).  But Endangered is the book to beat all books in the genre!  It’s real, it’s gritty, and it will break your heart.  But the best part is the science is all real and the desperate need for conservation is all too real in a part of the world that often can’t feed it’s people, let along focus on the innocent creatures surrounding them.

Endangered is the truly exceptional story of Sophie, a teenage girl whose mother runs a bonobo sanctuary in Congo.  Bonobos are our closest relatives (we share 98% of our DNA, more than chimps) and they are surprisingly human-like.  However, they live in the war-torn Congo and are in danger of becoming the first great apes to become extinct under our watch.  Sophie’s mother works alongside the government to raise orphaned bonobos in order to release them into the wild later in life.  But when Sophie personally rescues Otto, an orphaned bonobo, she becomes attached to him.

But Sophie and Otto’s lives are in danger when a coup threatens the stability of the country.  Sophie and Otto are forced to flee into the jungle in order to survive and they must make their way to safety.  Together, alongside some of the surviving bonobos from the sanctuary, they must fight to stay alive amidst revolution and chaos.

I can not recommend this book enough.  However, be aware that it is a war story, and thus I would recommend it for high school readers and not those in middle school.  It’s also full of facts that are woven seamlessly into the narrative.  I’d love to have my students read this as we study imperialism in Africa.  It’s a natural ladder to (and even from) Achebe and Adichi’s works.  Endangered is a tale of survival amid violence and Schrefer doesn’t shy away from the gory details at times.  And because those details sometimes involve mistreated animals, I found it hard to read at times.  However, I also could not stop reading.  And that’s the magic of Endangered.

I finished the book a few weeks ago and it’s still on my mind.  I immediately passed it on to my co-worker who teaches biology.  I plan to place it on my list of recommended summer reads next year.  And I can’t wait to booktalk to my students.  It’s the perfect mix of humanity, history, biology, conservation, compassion, the human condition, and current events.  I find myself still researching bonobos as I type this!

Highly, highly recommended.  And I fully expect to hear this title brought up in many awards conversations.

(Eliot Schrefer will be presenting at NCTE in November.  I know I can’t wait to be a part of that audience!)

 

*ARC courtesy of the publisher

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

When I attended BEA in May, a publicist at Bloomsbury and Walker Books handsold me an ARC of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. She won me over with her description of a kick-butt heroine and the comparisons to Game of Thrones.  A lot of my students are big fans of Game of Thrones so I am always on the lookout for more readalikes.  Later, I read blurbs that compared Maas’ story to Megan Whalen Turner, who is a veritable genius of the fantasy genre.

Throne of Glass began it’s life on the website FictionPress a few years ago and amassed a huge following.  There are many, many reviews of the original online.  However, the original is no longer available and it sounds like I might have enjoyed that version more.  Not that there is anything wrong with the published version.  I think it will have many fans and I know a lot of my students will really enjoy it.  I was just hoping for less of a love story, and apparently the love triangle was an addition made in the move from FictionPress to publication.  But don’t get me wrong- this is a book that I think the intended audience will love and I highly recommend it for high school classroom libraries.

Adarlan’s Assassin has been imprisoned in the salt mines doing hard labor since she was seventeen.  But after being enslaved for the past year she is suddenly chosen to meet with the Prince.  He has chosen her as his champion in a twisted competition being run by the king.  Should Celaena win the competition she will become the King’s Assassin and eventually earn her freedom.

I enjoyed the story a lot, but it wasn’t exactly what I was promised.  I wanted an epic story, high fantasy, and a story I could not put down.  The sword fights were great and I loved some of the characters.  But it was not an epic story and there were very few similarities to Megan Whalen Turner or Game of Thrones.  However, I do think the target audience will enjoy it so I recommend it for classroom libraries.

Now, can I just take a second to tell all publishers that it’s ridiculous to blurb a book as the ” _______ (fill in the blank- Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Lord of the Rings) for girls”.  Can we stop this weird need to create books for boys and books for girls?  Because you know who reads Game of Thrones in my classes?  Girls!  Imagine that!  So stop marketing books long gender lines.  Totally unnecessary.

 

*ARC courtesy of the publisher

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I have no idea how to review Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity without giving away all the twists and turns of the plot.  So, I won’t be summarizing the book much, that’s for sure.

I avoided reading Code Name Verity for a few months, even though I had purchased a copy, because it was receiving so much praise. (Sometimes, I can be quite contrary).  When I taught 6th grade, we studied WWII and the Holocaust in literature, and it played a large part in our curriculum.  Because of this, I’ve read a lot of WWII fiction aimed at middle grade and young adult readers.  I’m pretty picky when it comes to books set during the time period because there are so many choices.   But I finally sat down to read Wein’s book a few weeks ago and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I closed the cover.

I started the book and read a few pages here and there for about a week.  Be forewarned- this one starts slow.  So slow, that I considered abandoning it.  But when I did sit down and give it my full attention, I found that I was fascinated, even if it did move very slowly.  It took about 100 pages before I was completely sucked in. But at that point, I couldn’t stop reading.  I stayed up way past my bedtime, on a school night, and read the rest straight through.

Maggie Stiefvater said in her review that this book is unlike anything else she has read before.  I have to agree.  The book defies categorization.  It’s historical fiction but it’s immensely personal and internal.  It’s about WWII but it’s not really about the war.  Instead, it’s about two girls who join the war effort because it allows them to do what they love- fly, flirt, and gain power in some relationships.  It’s about friendship; true, never-dying, I’ll do anything for you friendship.  It’s about once-in-a-lifetime friendship and love.  It’s a haunting book that you will want to reread.

Code Name Verity isn’t perfect, but I expect to see it on many mock Printz lists at the end of the year.  It’s a slow book, and it’s not a typical YA.  I think it will appeal to adult readers and I plan to recommend it to some of my colleagues.  I also think my STEM students will love this one, because of the intense focus on pilots, engineering, planes, and and radios.  It would make a fabulous cross-curricular read, and I am thinking about ways to use it with my seniors during their 21st Century Human Condition unit.

Highly recommended for YA and adult readers.

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