Karma

cover image for KarmaOstlere, Cathy. (2011) Karma. New York, NY: Razorbill

Plot Summary/Critical Evaluation:

I am skipping ahead to the evaluation so that I can say that no one should recommend this book ever.  I’m not saying it should be banned or burned or anything, I just really think everyone’s time would be better spent on a novel that wasn’t so obnoxiously appropriative.

The genesis of the story alone is disturbing, not to mention how much it’s mentioned in the fore and afterwords.  Ostlere was on an extended tour of various parts of the world when she found herself in India during the destruction and death that followed Indira Ghandi’s assassination.  As she puts it: “My short-lived love affair with India was over.”  It is unclear whether the author was simply referring to having to go home, or if the actions of those days caused her to fall out of love with the country.  Unfortunately, the way in which she describes many of the people in India in the book – as superstitious and dismissive of the carnage that happens in their own country – suggests the latter rather than the former.

The story that Ostlere gives us is not all bad, nor is it full of nothing but racist caricatures.  Almost everyone in the book is Indian – by parentage if nothing else, such as in the case of the main character Maya/Jiva.  That’s what makes it so insidious; whether it was intentional or no, the racism is subtle and all the much more effective because of that.  Maya’s story is fairly compelling…until we get to the point where Maya gets caught up in the events of 1984 just as the author did. Suddenly the shame and heartbreak of an entire nation is all about how it affects Maya.  Despite the fact that her home still waits for her, unchanged.  (Or, at least, as unchanged as it was when she left it.)

It would be bad enough if Ostlere had simply tried to tell two stories instead of one – the suicide of Maya’s mother and the subsequent fallout being the story that the novel begins with.  Instead, Ostlere does not merely try to fit into that elegant tale another story about complex historical events and their effects on bystanders, she does so in a way that only lets us see these complexities through the eyes of someone that is a stranger to the land.  It’s not just bad writing, it’s incredibly disrespectful.

Reader’s Annotation:

Maya, barely coping with the loss of her mother, is caught up in political riots while returning her mother’s ashes to her homeland.

OR

White Canadian writes about her experiences in India through the voice of a fictional Canadian girl whose parents are Indian immigrants.

Author Information:

http://cathy-ostlere.com/author/

Genre:

Multicultural

Booktalking Ideas:

Unless the booktalk is about what not to read? Nope, not doing it. Ever.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/13-17

Possible Controversy:

You mean, other than the subtle racism?  There’s violence, of course, but nothing that stands out compared to other books.

Reasons for Choosing This Book:

It sounded interesting.  And I was looking for a book about that part of the world, or kids whose families come from there, because there are a decent number where I live and work.

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.

Feed

cover image for FeedAnderson, M.T. (2002) Feed. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press

Plot Summary:

Titus is hooked up 24/7 to FeedNet via an implant he received at birth, which gives him a direct line from his brain to all the internet has to offer.  While spending spring break on the moon, Titus and his friends run into Violet.  Violet isn’t like other girls; for one, her feed is new, she hasn’t had it since infancy.  For another, she isn’t so sure that life is unlivable without it.  In fact, she thinks that for her, life might just be unlivable with it.

Critical Evaluation:

Feed depicts a world in which decisions are made to maximize short term pleasure at the expense of education and culture, and in which class differences and are widened to an alarming and tragic degree. The Feed itself is created and controlled by a conglomerate of corporations, providing even more critique of consumerism and economic inequality.It’s an unusual book and, typical of Anderson’s work, it’s style is not one that will appeal to all teens.  It is, however, thought provoking, fascinating, and stands up well 10 years and several billion new websites later.

Reader’s Annotation:

Titus and his friends went to the moon to have fun, but the only part of that trip that did not suck was meeting Violet.

Author Information:

http://www.mt-anderson.com/

@Manderson_Rules

Genre:

Science Fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

The hook for this will definitely be the idea of the internet jack to your brain.  The trick will be to not make it sound to much like a lecture, or else it will turn kids off.

Reading Level/Target Age:

7th grade/14-17

Potential Controversy:

Most adults would approve of the idea that media dumb down kids (which isn’t necessarily what Anderson is saying, but is what many people will get from it) as well as give respect the praise and awards it has received, but some will not like the accusations aimed at capitalism or the destructed behavior exhibited by the teens in the book.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I liked Octavian Nothing and I like science fiction, so I figured this would be the perfect combination.  Sadly, not so much, although it was good.

Forever

cover image for ForeverBlume, Judy (1975) Forever.  New York, NY: Antheneum

Plot Summary:

Girl meets boy.  Boy and girl fall in love.  Girl goes to Planned Parenthood.  Girl and boy have sex.  Girl and boy are separated.  Girl falls in love with new boy.  Girl breaks up with old boy.  Boy is sad, but moves on.  Girl is sad, but happy with new boy.  At no point during the story does the girl get pregnant, catch a disease, or die.

Critical Evaluation:

This is perhaps the least inviting plot summary I have ever written, but to be perfectly honest Forever was one of the least interesting teen books I have ever read.  It is possible that at one point in time Katherine and Michael both felt real and modern, but that time is no longer.  Most of the prose is the opposite of compelling (“On Friday, right after school, I washed my hair.  I couldn’t eat any dinner.  My parents gave me a couple of funny looks…”) and what little personality comes through feels dated and forced. Without any emotional attachment or investment in either character, their romance and break-up failed to move me in any way.

I applaud Blume for her intentions and what she accomplished by writing a story about teens having responsible sex and not getting punished for it by fate or society.  Yet, as sad as it is that such a story was and still is groundbreaking, and as much as I would include it in a young adult collection, I must admit I would have a hard time recommending this novel to any teens.  It reads like a lecture; the fact that it is one I agree with does not by itself make it a pleasurable or worthwhile read.

Reader’s Annotation:

Katherine and Michael are in love, that part they know.  Now the question is: should they or shouldn’t they?

Booktalking Ideas:

I would never book talk this title if I could help it.  But if I absolutely had to, I would focus on the parts that make it revolutionary – the fact that the teens in the story decide to have sex and survive doing so.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/14 -19

Potential Controversy:

[Pardon me a moment while I wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes.]

Sadly, even unmarried adult women admitting to having sex is so controversial that public figures have no problem labeling law students “sluts” for speaking about birth control.  So, needless to say, a book about an unmarried teen girl deciding to have sex? And going to Planned Parenthood?  And not being punished for it?  And then being the dumper not the dumpee?  Yeah. This is the kind of title that has always been frequently challenged and sadly will continue to be challenged for quite some time.  While its age and the popularity and respectability of its author cushions it from some criticism, they are by no means an impenetrable armor.

The one positive thing about the dry tone of the book is that is hampers its popularity and therefore also how much of a priority people make to challenge it.  It also assists in combating accusations of luridness or obscenity.  (Which, to be fair, was likely part of the reason it was written they way that it was.)  When a challenge does come up, the best thing would be to focus on the fact that the teens in the story have responsible sex, that it is the right of individual parents to help their own children make reading choices, and that many parents and health professionals believe that it is extremely appropriate and useful for older teens to be reading stories about other teens sexual choices and exploring such ideas theoretically before making real life decisions about their own lives.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I have a bad habit of getting into arguments about Twilight.  (You know what it’s like when people are wrong on the internet.)  A lot of times people in these discussions say things like “kids should be reading Forever instead!”  Now that I have read it, my answer will be: NO.  Teens deserve books that have plots like Forever’s and yet are interesting reads and address desire like Twilight.  Until we have more (any?) books like that, I’m not going to judge any teen for reading either.

Soulless, Vol. 1

cover image for Soulless graphic novelCarriger, Gail. (2012) Soulless, Vol. 1. New York, NY: Yen Press.

Plot Summary:

The manga version of Soulless follows the same plot as the prose novel, only much abridged.  Miss Alexia Tarabotti is attempting to catch a moment of peace and some decent food at an otherwise trying and under-catered ball, when a vampire comes across her all alone and attempts to have a snack himself.  Alexia, however, is a preternatural – a person who was born with a deficit of soul and whose touch renders mortal those whose excess of soul has allowed them to become a supernatural being.  More confused than alarmed at the loss of his fangs, the vampire continues to attack Alexia in vain – until Alexia is forced to end his life in defense.  This sparks of a series of events that grows ever more dangerous, fantastic, and hilarious.

excerpt from Soulless graphic novelCritical Evaluation:

The lack of insights into Alexia’s thoughts are much missed and the pixie-fied version of our forthright heroine is a bit more fanservice-y than such a character deserves; the story loses a lot in switching from it’s focus on seeing the world through Alexia’s eyes to seeing her through the conventions of the male gaze.  Despite that, it was a fun read and the character’s expressions and body language were quite often priceless and hilarious.  Though I would strongly suggest that the prose novel be read first, the graphic novel could act as a gateway to those who may be reluctant to pick up a relatively dense title.

Reader’s Annotation:

Miss Alexia Tarabotti may look like an ordinary miss in Victorian London (if a bit too Italian to be fashionable) but how many other proper young ladies can claim the ability to defang vampires and werewolves with a single touch?

Genre:

Graphic Novel Series

Booktalking Ideas:

It’s manga – you gotta have lots of props in the form of images form the text. Otherwise it would be like trying to booktalk a prose novel using only pictures. (hmmm…that’s an intriguing idea, actually)

Reading Level/Target Age:

8th grade/16-24

(yeah, I know, it’s a graphic novel, you would think it would have a lower reading level than that.  They keep a lot of the big words though.  “Consumate” is not vocab for fourth graders.)

Possible Controversy:

It’s a graphic novel with nudity.  Even keeping it shelved in the adult section, there will be people who object.  It is, however, technically an adult title, and I think placing it in the adult section is justified – especially if you have a large enough adult graphic novels section that the teens are able to find it easily anyway.

Reason for Choosing This Title:

Mere curiosity.  I haven’t given you the impression that I’m a fan, have I?

Across the Universe

Recover image for Across the Universevis, Beth. (2011) Across the Universe. New York, NY: Penguin Young Readers

Plot Summary:

When Amy and her parents are cryogenically frozen for a 300 year space journey, they know there are risks involved.  They know that when they wake up, everyone they knew will be dead – except for each other.  What they didn’t realize is that the biggest danger to their safety would be a murderer running loose, killing frozen passengers.  Or that a botched attempt at taking Amy’s life would leave her awake fifty years early – without her parents and stuck in a world where nothing is quite what she expected.

Critical Evaluation:

For a generation ship story, this isn’t especially complicated or deep, but it does deal with weighty issues and is a good, solid story.  The whodunit woven into a more traditional science fiction setting was well done and while the romance lacked spark, neither was it annoying.  My favorite part was how Amy’s mobile presence on the ship was clearly meant to be a counterpoint to the classic story “The Cold Equations.

Reader’s Annotation:

When Amy and her parents were cryogenically frozen for a 300 year space journey, they knew there are risks involved.  What they didn’t realize is that a botched attempt at taking Amy’s life would leave her awake fifty years early – stuck in a world where nothing is quite what she expected.

Author Information:

http://bethrevis.blogspot.com/

@bethrevis

Genre:

Science Fiction

Booktalking Ideas:

Since I think most science fiction fans will have already heard of this, I would focus on the whodunit and romance to try and draw readers in who might like it, but would never think to try it otherwise.

Reading Level/Target Age:

5th grade/14-18

Possible Controversy:

There is murder and arguments for rebellion and non-conformity, but I honestly think most people bothered by that would be more likely to focus on objecting to other books.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

Generation ship! for teens!  I do not know that there are really any others, so I had to see if it was any good.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

cover image for Nick and Norah's Infinite PlaylistCohn, Rachel and Levithan, David. (2006). Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Plot Summary:

Asking someone to be your girlfriend for five minutes is not the most suave pick-up line ever. Nick isn’t actually trying to hit on Norah, however, he just wants look like less of a loser in front of his ex-girlfriend, who is headed his way. Norah is tempted to tell him “FUCK, NO!” but she decides instead that kissing a cute boy – however random – is her best shot at avoiding a frenemie who just happens to be walking right towards them.  Neither of them expected a chance encounter to turn into something much more.

Critical Evaluation:

As improbable as this set-up is, Nick and Norah themselves feel honest and believable as characters. Their motivations may be unhealthy at times, but as the story unfolds we begin to understand the internal logic, hopes, history, and fears that drive them to do what they do. Told in alternating third person point of view chapters, the plot of Nick and Norah takes place all in a single night. Although the characters do spend much of the night falling in and out of love, tt is more a story about learning from relationships – and allowing room for both yourself and your partner to be flawed and human – than it is about the start of a romance. This is not a particularly memorable book in terms of craft, but it was enjoyable and will speak strongly to teens and their experiences in learning how to relate to peers romantically.

Reader’s Annotation:

Asking someone to be your girlfriend for five minutes is not the most suave pick-up line ever.

Author Information:

http://www.rachelcohn.com

http://www.davidlevithan.com/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/David-Levithan/139042149485971

Genre:

Sexuality and Gender

Booktalking Ideas:

Despite the title, I would not try to come up with a playlist and center the talk on that.  I would begin by talking about Nick and Norah’s break-ups and ending with Nick asking Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes.

Reading Level/Target Age:

7th grade/15-19

Potential Controversy:

Nicks and Norah and their friends stay up all night in New York and spend a decent amount of time partying at clubs.  Nothing really risque happens, but many parents would not approve.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I must confess I saw the movie first, and was told the book was better, of course.

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