Category Archives: YA

The Art of Secrets by James Klise

Those Newberys are getting a little dry! I’m trying to pepper in at least one non-Newbery read a week, and I’m trying to keep it to things published in 2014, just to keep things extra fresh. This week: James Klise’s new YA novel The Art of Secrets.

art of secrets

The Chicago scene is pretty buzzy about this book. Klise is a librarian at a charter school in Chicago. The geographical and career proximity tickles me. When I bought my copy of this book from City Lit the bookseller was very enthusiastic. All reasons to get very excited!

The book takes place at a fictional private school in Chicago located downtown. This allows Klise to pull his characters from neighborhoods all over Chicago, which is a fun detail for locals, and allows for a reasonably diverse cast of characters. The story centers on Saba Khan, a Pakistani girl from Rogers Park, whose apartment is set on fire while her family is at Saba’s tennis match. The rest of the novel revolves around trying to figure out how this fire started, and the school’s effort to help Saba and her family recover from the fire. This ALSO leads us to another plot involving legendary Chicago outsider-artist Henry Darger. Some students who are collecting items for an auction to raise money for Saba’s family come across a set of paintings possibly painted by Darger. We spend the novel bouncing between the perspectives of Saba; Saba’s dad; Steve, Saba’s new boyfriend; Javier, an exchange student from Spain; the school principal; Kendra, the new girl who is organizing the fund raiser to help Saba; Kevin, Kendra’s brother; the gym teacher; an English teacher; and the art teacher. Its… a lot of perspectives. Somehow this all works, though! Continue reading

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Newbery Project #8: 2006’s Criss Cross

I think the project is starting to cloud my judgement. When you read almost nothing but Newbery winners, it makes it hard to keep things in perspective. Things that are great in the grand scheme of things are problem-ridden when you are reading them only from the viewpoint of “here are a bunch of things that won awards! Look how good they are!”

So, with that skewed perspective in mind, I am sort of ready to discuss Lynn Rae Perkins’s Criss Cross. A book that doesn’t even have an actual description on Goodreads except for the first few lines of the novel. That is how little a plot there is to this book. And when you’ve read a string of character-driven, light-on-plot children’s books, you start to wish for something to happen. Ironically, the first line of an early chapter in the book is “She wished something would happen.” And I am sure I am not the first person who make this exact comment about this book: “DON’T WE ALL, DEBBIE! DON’T WE ALL!!!!” Continue reading

"Where’d You Get That Can of Peas?" Questions I Have about Divergent

This is Chicago today. I imagine it with no cars, a lot of broken down buildings, and a whole bunch of bloody kids making out to picture Divergent Chicago.

Basic spoiler warning: I’m about to reference stuff from all over the first two Divergent books. Honestly, if you haven’t read the books at all, not a whole lot will be ruined for you by reading this. The specific things that I mention probably won’t make sense to you, and the broad things I discuss aren’t really “spoilers” per se in that they don’t give away anything really secret or surprising. That said, if you don’t want to know much about what happens before you read, you should probably avoid this.

So, I’m rereading Insurgent, and about halfway through there’s the scene when the Candor guy is meeting with Jeanine’s “representative” and the representative tells the Candor leader “your faction is disposable” and I thought, “Wait, yeah! What the hell is the point of Candor anyway?!”

Which led me to wonder, “What, what is the deal with any of this?” And it took me until now to realize how badly I wanted more world building in the Divergent books.

Questions I asked the book, to no avail, while reading or rereading, after the jump:

-What do the Candor people do all day? Amity grow things, Abnegation run the government and take care of factionless people, Erudite study and develop new technology, Dauntless defend the city and the Candor… tell it like it is? Like, for a living? I seems like they should run the justice system or something, but every faction has their own justice system, apparently.

-Where does everyone get their canned food? They reference cans and nonperishables a few times. Where did these come from? Amity seems to just grow crops, not process and package them.

-Why are Abnegation the only ones who appear to have families that live in their own house and make their own food? Every glimpse we get into the other factions involves cafeterias.

-How big are these factions anyway? Most factions all fit in one building (even if one of those buildings is the massive Merchandise Mart, it’s still one building). But Tris doesn’t recognize Four at all, even though he’s only two years older than her and they lived in the same faction for 14 years.

-Why does everyone seem to know so little about what goes in in the other factions? How does Tris not realize that Dauntless shoves out their older people? Why doesn’t anyone know where the factions ARE? They all go to school together for something like 10 years, right? It never comes up in the school cafeteria?

-Who is running the trains? Why do they go fast in between where the Dauntless jump on or off but slow down for jumping? Why don’t they stop? Where’s the end of the line? Who establishes the schedule? What’s the point of keeping them running if only 1/5th of the population can use them at all?

-What the economy in this world? Tris once says that she gets points to spend in the Dauntless compound to buy things like dresses and tattoos. (Actually, they never say the tattoos cost money–do they?!) Where did these dresses come from? Where did the Dauntless store get them? Where does anyone else get their clothes? or guns? or books? Clearly there is not an inter-faction currency, so how do people navigate inter-faction transactions? Is that a thing?

Half the fun of any dystopian/fantasy/sci-fi novel is the world building and figuring out how everything in this new world works. Tell me mooooooore Veronica Roth. Please.

Or maybe this all gets answered in Allegiant when we find out what’s outside the fence! Here’s to holding out hope.

Allegiant Is Out! I’m Not Reading it Yet

Veronica Roth’s Allegiant came out two weeks ago and I still haven’t started it.

I bought it, and I started reading it, but the first thought as I read the first paragraph was “Who’s that?” That was also my second thought, and my third thought. I could not for the life of me remember who Edith or Christina or Will or even EVELYN was. I couldn’t remember the character that shares my (until-recently-very-uncommon) name. So I went back to the beginning. I reread Divergent (which I had to do before I read Insurgent for the same reason) and now you can see I am about half way through Insurgent for a second time. I remember who most of those people are now.
I am trying to reread with a supportive mindset. I’ve come to appreciate the idea that there’s really no reason to read a book looking for things you don’t like about it, and it’s a lot more interesting and enriching and helpful for everyone to read a book looking for the things to like about it. BUT! I keep having issues with these books! I really want Tris’s shoulder to stop hurting, or at least for her to stop reminding us that it hurts. I also want her to stop making out with Four so much. Sorry, everybody. I’m cranky. And I really want everyone to stop shaking so much. By everyone I mostly mean Tris and Four, since those are the only people whose bodies get described in any detail. But geez, guys! Are you getting enough potassium? Do you have Parkinson’s? What’s with the CONSTANT SHAKING?!
I’m going to go pretend to be Tris and run a few miles and try not to shake or think about how much my shoulder hurts and then come back and finish this so I can finally start the book all of you finished weeks ago.

Excuses, 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and Divergent.

The item “blog post” has been showing up on my teuxdeux list every day for something like three weeks. I keep ignoring it.

I refuse to blame “being busy” because I firmly believe that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person. Busy people know how to fit all kinds of stuff into a day. I know how to fit one thing into a day. I am not a busy person.

I did manage to busy myself reading 13 Little Blue Envelopes, which I had ignored until Maureen Johnson decided to give it away for free on Kindle, which is a testament to internet marketing. Although I’m not sure it was 100% successful as it did not quite motive me to buy the sequel yet. I also read Divergent. Everyone I talked to who read it was pretty much ambivalent about it, but for some reason that did not stop me.

13 Little Blue Envelopes is actually delightful, and I should really find new words to describe children’s and YA books that I like besides “delightful.” I loved the premise, that Ginny’s aunt wrote her 13 letters before she died that would lead her on a trip across Europe. It managed to deftly walk the line between trite and touching, and between too-high-concept and plausible. Ginny was believably flawed and relatable. The descriptions of Europe were nice and atmospheric. In the end, though, I flipped through (clicked through?) the excerpt from The Last Little Blue Envelope and couldn’t get myself excited to read it. I couldn’t spend THAT much time with Ginny. [SPOILER ALERT highlight to read] I am curious to find out how the hell some kid in England wound up with Ginny’s letter that was stolen in Greece, but not quite curious enough to read a whole book just yet. A wonderful train read at least. And made me want to take a trip around Europe.

Divergent was everything everyone said it would be: pretty exciting with an interesting premise but ultimately not that remarkable. The idea of seeing a futuristic dystopia of a city you actually know is pretty cool, so anyone who has spent a decent amount of time in Chicago will like hearing about what has happened to the city. I actually wish there was more detail on that front. Maybe because Veronica Roth went to Northwestern and she now lives “near Chicago,” as her author bio describes, so she’s not that into the geography of the actual city? Just kidding. That’s my U of C vs. Northwestern bizarre rivalry rearing its head. Maybe she wrote it and her editor cut it, I don’t know. I would have read it and liked it if there was more local detail is what I’m saying.

The premise is fascinating but clearly unrealistic. The people of Chicago have divided themselves into five factions: Abnegation for the self-less citizens, Dauntless for the brave ones, Erudite for the academics, Amity for the friendly, and Candor for the honest. It’s fun to imagine a society divided so drastically by personality traits, but I found it very hard to believe that anyone would have believed that this kind of arrangement would actually work without conflict. Also, that such a large percentage of the population would so clearly fall into one group. (Although I’m pretty sure I’d be Erudite, which made me sad when they were painted in such a negative light. Maybe that’s how all the kids who identified with Slytherin felt?) ALSO, that any teenager would choose Abnegation at the choosing ceremony. I can see why adults could join Abnegation. They seem a very noble and peaceful people. I do not know a single 16-year-old who is selfless, though. It seems like it would be a hard sell.

The book also features a very prominent and detailed romance plot-line, which I cannot handle reading in YA as an adult reader. I do not care about teenagers in love or like. In my goodreads review I called it “barf-inducing.” There’s not actually anything wrong with this part of the story, I just personally had no desire to read about it. At all.

And I could not quite get behind the ending. Also: does ANYONE write stand-alone dystopian/post-apocalypic books these days? They’re all trilogies. Just let me finish the story in one book for once.

Other people’s complaints about this book did not stop me from reading it, and in the end, I don’t think any of these complaints should keep anyone else from reading it. It’s a fun, exciting read and I happily finished it.

Coming up tomorrow: a post I wrote a long time ago when I was still in writing mode about Kevin Henkes’s new novel, Junonia. Let’s all cheer for post-dated posts!

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