The Princess Diaries

cover image for The Princess DiariesCabot, Meg. (2000) The Princess Diaries. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers

Plot Summary:

Mia is an ordinary girl who spends her days doing ordinary things – like stressing out over math tests and getting caught up in her friend Lilly’s latest scheme.  Until her dad comes to visit and confesses that he is actually royalty – and she, Mia Thermopolis, is the crown princess of Genovia.  Being a modern princess is not all it’s cracked up to be though, and Mia is not at all sure she’s ready for the attention and responsibility.  With help from her friends and family – and the best stylists money can buy – Mia finally find a way to be herself and save Genovia too.

Critical Evaluation:

Anyone who has simply seen the movie is really missing out.  Cabot’s style is unique and hilarious, making this lighthearted story not only a breezy read but an absolute delight.  Who cares how improbable it all is? As long as Cabot is snarking and cracking jokes, I’m there.

Reader’s Annotation:

Mia is an ordinary girl who spends her days doing ordinary things – until her dad comes to visit and confesses that she, Mia Thermopolis, is actually the crown princess of Genovia.

Author Information:

http://www.megcabot.com/

http://www.facebook.com/megcabot

@MegCabot

Genre:

Girl’s Series

Booktalking Ideas:

The hard part with this book is getting people to forget the style of the movie, while there are similarities, that’s not going top convince people that haven’t already to read the book.  Pulling out some of the funny lines and jokes and letting them get a taste of that would be best.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/13-16

Potential Controversy:

This book is so full of fluff it practically floats.  I would seriously wonder about anyone who challenged it.

Reason for Choosing This Book:

I, like many, dismissed this series as merely being as good as the movie so why bother? – until a cousin of mine began raving about them to me.

Advertisements

What Can(t) Wait

cover image for What Can(t) WaitPerez, Ashley Hope (2011) What Can(t) Wait.  Minneapolis, MN: Carolhoda Books.

Plot Summary:

Marisa is a good, hardworking daughter who gets good grades and gives half her paycheck from her cashier’s job to help pay the bills.  Lately though, she can’t seem to do enough to please her parents.  They want her helping out at home more and can’t understand why she would even think about not taking the promotion and extra hours at work.  Marisa’s teachers are concerned that her grades are slipping and are frustrated by her reluctance to talk about the fast approaching deadlines for college applications.  Marisa can’t figure out how to tell her parents that she wants to go to college, or how to explain to her teachers that her parents will never let her go.

Critical Evaluation:

I’m not ashamed to admit that I bawled through much of this book.  Not because it was especially heartrending, although the story is well told and touching, but because I’ve known so many Marisas and there are so few books out there telling their story.  Marisa’s parents are never portrayed as backward or cruel, they just human – and have expectations that clash with those of the culture they have moved into.  Marisa’s teachers are kind and sometimes helpful, but their ignorance and arrogance gets in the way.  Marisa is strong and kind and talented, but still a teenager ans still without superpowers; the conflicting expectations and dismissal of her own wants and needs is often too much for her to handle.  The resolution is spot on as well, from the fights, to the running off, to the last minute blessing from her mother and reassurance that Marisa will always be family.  I want this book available everywhere because if coming across it meant this much to me, I can’t imagine what it must feel like for the girls who lives are like Marisa’s.

Reader’s Annotation:

For Marisa and her parents, family comes first; if her niece needs watching, her own school work will have to wait.  But with college deadlines approaching, can Marisa afford to put her own dreams on hold?

Author Information:

http://www.ashleyperez.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ashley-Hope-P%C3%A9rez/167177466648492

@ashleyhopeperez

Genre:

Realistic Fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

One of the main strengths of the book is it’s realistic portrayal of Marisa’s relationship with her parents, so I would likely focus on that – starting by asking the teens to think about what they love and hate most about their own parents.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/13-19

Possible Controversy:

There’s some mild language and Marisa fights with her parents, runs away, and goes to a typical party with alcohol.  It’s all pretty mild though, largely because the narrative requires it – the point is to show how unobjectionable Marisa’s conduct is by many people’s standards.

Reason for Choosing This Title:

I’m always on the lookout for books that feature characters that reflect the diversity of my library’s patrons and this looked like a likely candidate.

Sloppy Firsts

cover image for Sloppy FirstsMcCafferty, Megan. (2001) Sloppy Firsts. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Plot Summary:

With her best friend Hope by her side, Jessica “Not-so” Darling can brave anything – even high school.  But when tragedy prompts Hope’s parents to move out of state, Jessica is left alone with friends she doesn’t really like, a sister who cares only about her upcoming wedding, a mother who wishes she was more like her sister, and a father who treats her like the son he had – and lost.  To make matters worse, she suddenly finds herself entangled with the boy that Hope’s parents blame for their son’s death.  Can Hope and Jessica’s friendship survive the distance and secrets?

Critical Evaluation:

Sloppy Firsts did not drive me quite as crazy as The Perks of Being a Wallflower did, largely owing to the better quality of writing and Jessica’s presence in her own life, but I had similar issues with it.  Why do we never see Hope’s letters back to Jessica? Or see Jessica mention them more than just a handful of times?  Jessica is at least more self-aware than Charlie was (to be fair, she is also older) and tries to take charge more often (although often in very passive aggressive ways) but she still lacks personality for much of the book (sarcasm is not a substitute for substance).  The story improved as it went on, but it feels like it could have been a bit shorter and still as interesting.

Reader’s Annotation:

Can Hope and Jessica’s friendship survive tragedy, distance, and secret boyfriends?

Author Information:

http://www.meganmccafferty.com/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Megan-McCafferty/53129595664

@meganmccafferty

Genre:

Sex and Sexuality

Booktalking Ideas:

(bang my head against a wall that I have to booktalk this book?)

Since it’s not a good idea to booktalk books you don’t like or connect to, I would probably focus on the part I did like and connect to the most, which was Jessica’s use of running at night to find peace and her relationship with her parents, especially her father and how he communicated by focusing on her running.  I would likely start by asking teens to imagine sneaking out to run like she did.  I would then include enough of the rest of the plot so that potential readers don’t get the wrong impression about the book’s focus.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/15-24

Potential Controversy:

I’m not sure there is anything in this book that wouldn’t be controversial to someone, which is a large part of why it is often shelved with the adult fiction even though it will interest many teen readers.  Unfortunately, it may also be difficult to defend it’s placement in a teen collection, rather than adult collection, because of that precedent.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

This is one of many crossover books that I have heard a lot of buzz about, but had never read.

Weetzie Bat

cover images for Weetzie BatBlock, Francesca Lia. (1989) Weetzie Bat. New York, NY: HarperCollins Children’s Books.

Plot Summary:

Weetzie Bat is looking for love, friendship, and a place where she can be herself.  Luckily for her, Grandma Fifi gives her a magic lamp to make all her dreams come true – but wishes don’t always turn out in quite the way we expect them to.  From surviving high school to finding and losing love to becoming a mother of a child as unusual as herself, Weetzie Bat tells the story of a  young woman with a free spirit who creates a home that gives her just what she needs.

Critical Evaluation:

Groundbreaking when it was published, Weetzie Bat is not nearly as needed as it once was, but it is also not quite so dated as to be irrelevant.  It’s no longer unusual for characters to have close friends who are gay, and our current vice President does not wag his finger at fictional single mothers, but neither are these choices fully validated by mainstream culture. And, of course, there will always be kind, responsible young adults who nevertheless don’t quite fit the mold of what society expects.  Many teens will still find its within the pages a place that they, like Weetize Bat, can be themselves and make mistakes without being considered immoral.  The style is unusual but appropriate for the topic and characters; the words and story flit along from thought to thought like a butterfly – a sort of abbreviated third person stream of consciousness – which can come across either very fresh and satisfying or shallow and confusing, depending on the reader.

Reader’s Annotation:

Weetzie Bat is looking for love, friendship, and a place where she can be herself.  Luckily for her, Grandma Fifi gives her a magic lamp to make all her dreams come true – but wishes don’t always turn out in quite the way we expect them to.

Author Information:

Block is not quite as internet famous as John Green, Maureen Johnson, or Cassie Clare but she is very much present and accessible to her readers (unsurprisingly given the style and topics of the books she writes).

http://www.francescaliablock.com/

http://loveinthetimeofglobalwarming.blogspot.com/

http://www.myspace.com/francescalia

http://www.facebook.com/francescalia

@francescablock

Genre:

Classics

Booktalking Ideas:

I’d focus on how much Weetzie Bat does not feel like she belongs, as this is something that many teens can relate to, and try to use some of the language from the book since it is so unusual and potentially polarizing.  As much as I did not connect with this book, I think it’s an important one to booktalk.  As the multiple covers above suggest, using merely the book jacket to sell this title is problematic because what is considered edgy and fun in terms of visual style changes so quickly.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/15-19

(while the vocabulary is very low, creating lots of complaints about the reading level on Goodreads and the like, the style of writing would actually be difficult for anyone under 12 to follow)

Possible Controversy:

Dan Quayle may no longer be around to take notice of Weetzie Bat’s life choices, but plenty of other people are.  This slim novella validates many of the life choices that more conservative parents dislike and fear; the best defense is one that points to the title’s longstanding place in young adult canon and the difference between choosing for their child and choosing for all children.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I was left with mixed feelings of Block’s writing style after reading Beautiful Boys a couple of years ago and have been curious if I might like other titles any better.  I don’t really, but I think I understand better why these books are so well loved by many.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

cover image for The Perks of Being a WallflowerChbosky, Stephen.  (1999) The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  New York, NY: Gallery Books.

Plot Summary:

Charlie’s letters begin a few short months after one of his friends was found dead of suicide and the night before he begins his freshman year in high school.   Charlie survives high school, but mostly by floating along – he is hesitant to participate in his own life.  Will he ever learn to jump in and enjoy what life has to offer?

Critical Evaluation:

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of those novels that you either love or you hate – and I certainly didn’t love it.  I found it annoying that we never learned who the letters were addressed to (not because I hate unanswered questions, but because the letters felt like merely a convenient conceit and that lack of information did not help), and the juvenile writing style was like an itch that wouldn’t go away (I kept looking for reasons why his teacher thought he was insightful or talented and writing – and coming up short).  Charlie’s passivity did not frustrate me, but the detachment to his own life that seemed to accompany it certainly did.  Yet, this is a cult classic and well loved by many and so I would certainly still include it in any young adult collection; I am glad it speaks to many readers, I just wish I knew why.

Reader’s Annotation:

Charlie is content to watch his own life unfold from the sidelines – for now.  But what will happen when he begins to fall in love and make friends despite himself?

Author Information:

[no personal website]

Genre:

sex and sexuality

Booktalking Ideas:

If I absolutely had to booktalk this I would probably find quotes from people that do love it and mix that up with some basic plot info.

Reading Level/Target Age:

6th grade/14-24

Possible Controversy:

There’s sex, drugs, suicide…and that’s just the start.  While I think all this is perfectly fine, many will not and will challenge it.  There is a reason why many libraries and bookstores – despite MTV being involved in the publication – choose to shelf it among adult fiction.  In this particular case I think that’s a fine idea simply because the kids that are most likely to enjoy it are more likely to pick up a book that says it’s for adults rather than teens.  It still should be included in displays and suggested reading lists for high school students however, and may need to be defended in those instances.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I’ve been curious about this title ever since several of my fellow booksellers at Barnes and Noble raved about it.  I was hoping to learn what the fuss was about.  Alas, I did not.

Looking for Alaska

cover image for Looking for AlaskaGreen, John. (2005). Looking for Alaska. New York, NY: speak.

Plot Summary:

Miles Halter is in search of “a Great Perhaps” – his phrase, taken from the last words of the poet Francois Rabelais, for the that indefinable, pregnant possibility that adolescence so often thrives on.  He isn’t going to find it in an ordinary public school in Florida, so he convinces his parents to let him go to Culver Creek Boarding school in Alabama.  There he meets Chip, Lara, and Takumi…but most of all Alaska Young.  In which he finds his “Great Perhaps” but not in quite the way that he expected to.

Looking for Alaska is very much a deconstruction of romantic myths, but it is one that is not disdainful of hope and love.  Miles, having fallen for Alaska, keeps looking for hints that he has become as central to Alaska’s world as she has become to his.  In doing so, he overlooks much of what makes the real Alaska tick, a contradiction that Alaska herself is quick to point out.  When tragedy strikes, Miles’ grief pushes him to refocus his efforts rather than step back and examine them critically, a mistake that threatens to tear apart the friendships he has come to value.

Critical Evaluation:

Green’s (and Miles’) clever, snarky, and yet somehow mellow voice is an essential part of this book’s charm.  It is also how Green is able to make readers sympathetic to Miles’ antics while still shaking our heads at his obsession; a more reverent or less erudite approach would have made the tale overly sappy or shallow by turns, rather than acting as a counterpoint to Miles puppy dog love.  Instead, Green is able to invite us to dwell on Alaska’s many charms along with Miles, while still allowing a multi-faceted character to filter in around Miles’ rose colored viewpoint.  All of which becomes incredibly essential when Miles is finally forced to find a truthful and moral balance between his feelings and the needs of those he cares about.

Reader’s Annotation:

Love,  rivalries, and boarding school pranks -what could possibly go wrong?

Author Information:

I’m not sure it’s possible for an author to have a larger web presence than John Green and still be only a minor celebrity.  In addition the usual Twitter and Facebook accounts, Green – along with his brother Hank Green – not only have a regular vlog on YouTube, but have created an entire website/forum/movement they affectionately call Nerdfighters (nerds who fight world suck using their nerd powers, not people who fight nerds).

http://johngreenbooks.com/

http://fishingboatproceeds.tumblr.com

http://www.twitter.com/realjohngreen

http://www.facebook.com/johngreenfans

http://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers

http://nerdfighters.ning.com/

Genre:

Award Winners

Booktalking Ideas:

“Welcome to Culver Creek, Mr. Halter.  You’re given a large measure of freedom here.  If you abuse it, you’ll regret it.  I’d hate to have to bid you farewell.”  Miles Halter is pretty that pranks and sneaking out for smokes are not on the dean of students list of approved activities, but he didn’t beg his parents to let him go away to boarding school so that he could spend all his time sitting in his room!

Reading Level/Target Age:

7th grade/ages 15-19

Potential Controversy:

The teens in this book swear get into all kinds of stuff – including drinking – and not all of not all of it comes with negative consequences and none of it comes off as an After School Special kind of lesson.  While this is essential to the book’s strength and appeal, it might also make some adults nervous.  Focusing on this title’s award status as well as it’s nuanced and hardly immoral look at teenage pranks, relationships, and rule breaking should help alleviate most concerns.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Having enjoyed An Abundance of Katherines, I was curious to see what made Looking for Alaska even more widely praised.  Green is also one of those authors with a large and devoted enough fan base that I feel I should be familiar with all or most of his works, not simply a single one or two titles.

Whatever Happened to Goodbye

cover image for Whatever Happened to GoodbyeDessen, Sarah. (2011) Whatever Happened to Goodbye. New York, NY: Viking

Plot Summary:

McLean doesn’t mind moving yet again, she’s used to it by now.  She looks forward to reinventing herself yet again, creating a persona to match her mood, knowing that she can be someone else in another few months or a year.  But when MacLean starts putting down roots – and falling in love – she suddenly realizes that she’s not sure who she is anymore.

Critical Evaluation:

An utterly enjoyable read full of small moments rather than big events, Whatever Happened to Goodbye demonstrates all the characteristics that have made Dessen’s work a staple of any young adult collection.  The focus on handling change, human frailty, forgiving adults for being human, and being ready to take risks should appeal and speak to many teens. The ending was perhaps a bit too neat, not in that everything worked out in the end but that everything was resolved in a timely manner, leaving the story at merely good and not great.

Reader’s Annotation:

McLean doesn’t mind moving yet again, she’s used to it by now.  What she isn’t so sure about it staying in one place and putting down roots.

Author Information:

http://sarahdessen.com/

http://sarahdessen.com/blog/

http://www.facebook.com/sarahdessenbooks

@sarahdessen

Genre:

Realistic Fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

I’d start by asking listeners to imagine who they would be if they could reinvent themselves and then launch into the setup for the book.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/15-19

Possible Controversy:

Sad as it is that normal teen mistakes can make a book controversial, but MacLean runs away and several of the kids meet because they have to do community service and that might suggest endorsement to some parents.  Generally though, it’s a sweet book and probably won’t be challenged.

Reasons for Choosing this Title:

How in the world did it come to pass that I had not read anything by Dessen before this? I do not know, but that’s fixed now. And I will likely be reading more soon.

Previous Older Entries