Fighting (and losing) The War on (brown-skinned) Boys.

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So last week I ranted about criminal justice in the USA. In this post I’d like to combine some more thoughts on this topic with reviews of three excellent books on the subject.

Paranoia & Heartbreak: Fifteen Years in a Juvenile FacilityPARANOIA AND HEARTBREAK by Jerome Gold is made up of unedited entries in the journals Gold kept while he worked at Ash Meadow, a juvenile detention center in rural Washington State. The candid and personal nature of this book makes it a compelling read. Gold, although always sympathetic to the juveniles in his care, nevertheless confesses to viewing some of them as incorrigible, irreparably damaged by abuse or just plain irritating. He profiles several inmates who made an impression in him during his years at Ash Meadows but also goes into some depth about the political complexities he faced in this unionized but underfunded environment.

Gold doesn’t take special care in detailing either the background or the race of the inmates he profiles but readers get the impression that this is definitely a racially mixed group, if not very economically mixed. These are poor kids, most of them victims of abuse, some of them are gang involved and many have been addicted. True to its title, there’s a lot of heartbreak in this book, quite a bit of paranoia and not much hope. That’s the reality I guess. Gold was there for fifteen years so he would know.

In contrast LAST CHANCE IN TEXAS by John Hubner offers some hope. This book details a groundbreaking program in a Texas Juvenile Detention center which is literally a last chance for juvenile offenders to avoid long prison sentences in adult jails. Hubner profiles two inmates (they are called “students”), a boy and a girl at the Giddings School. The bulk of the book is made up of harrowing detailed accounts of the group therapy these kids must complete to graduate from the program and be eligible for parole.Last Chance in Texas: The Redemption of Criminal Youth

Again, the kids are victims of abuse. Again they are deeply psychologically damaged. Again, though racially mixed, the population of this facility is skewed towards minorities.  Not everybody succeeds in the Giddings School; Hubner makes that clear. But some do, and records show an unprecedented success rate in rehabilitating the most serious juvenile offenders.  The book, as a result, is much more clear in the position it takes about the treatment and potential rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.

LockdownAfter reading two non-fiction works on a subject, it’s always hard to then turn to a YA fiction dealing with the same issues. LOCKDOWN by Walter Dean Myers is the story of Reese, a juvenile who is doing time for theft. Fresh from reading about the messed-up kids in Ash Meadow and Giddings, I found Reese a  little well-balanced. I liked his story, the relationship he formed with his fellow inmates, the staff and the residents of the elder hostel where he works on day release. But it all felt a bit sanitized. Even with the mild language and violence I felt Myers could have gone much darker with this story. Still, Myers tends to write for less accomplished readers so perhaps the simplicity of this story was necessary. The inmate stories in the other books were anything but simple.

There are some hard truths to be learned here.

I’ve learned that criminal corrections, especially juvenile corrections is a system that disproportionately affects minorities both in the USA and in Canada. But even once in that system, non-whites are treated more harshly. For example, in the USA of all the inmates  currently serving life without parole sentences (JLWOP) for non-murder offenses committed while juveniles, 100% are non-white. 100%. Surely that must set alarm bells off somewhere. It indicates not only the type of sentencing that contravenes UN regulations, but also an unacceptable imbalance in the sentencing of non-white youths. I’m not exactly surprised, by this,  given what we all know about the over representation of minorities in the criminal justice system, but it is still jarring. How can authorities and law-makers look at that statistic in particular and not ask themselves if the system is broken?

I’m sure there are all kinds of rationalizations. One is that longer sentences, and JLWOP sentences in particular, often result from a crime that is gang related. Certain courts add years to a sentence based on whether the crime was committed with a gun and/or was gang related. So a car-jacking by a known gang member, committed with a gun, for example will likely result in a much longer sentence than one committed by a non-gang member. Gang members are far more likely to be minorities. Ergo minorities are far more likely to be sentenced to long terms or JLWOP.

Shouldn’t this be a call to arms for reform to our schools, our gang prevention programs, our diversion programs, drug rehabilitation, youth employment and mentoring? Just because it’s only minority kids who are falling foul of these trends does that mean we can just blithely accept it? Isn’t the imbalance MORE of a reason to say “enough”?

The Supreme Court has recently ruled that mandatory LWOP sentences for juveniles are “cruel and unusual” and therefore non-constitutional. In many cases this will be retroactively applied so that some inmates currently serving JLWOP will be able to apply to have their sentence re-evaluated. This is an important step, but doesn’t mean that all JLWOP sentences will be re-evaluated, nor that JLWOP sentences will no longer be applied, only that courts cannot make them mandatory.

In short, it’s still okay in the USA to send children to jail for the rest of their lives. 2500 young men and women thus sentenced are in prison right now.

I think it is time we all take a step back and look at what I consider to be a war on teenagers, especially teenage boys, and doubly especially teenage boys of color. This is not as reactionary a perception as you may think. Many cultures treat teenage boys with extreme hostility, not the least of which the polygamous Mormon sects right here in Canada and in the USA. It is the biological imperative for powerful men (white, rich politicians and lawmakers in our culture) to mistrust and marginalize young men, because they represent a threat to their reproductive hegemony.

The young men who fall foul of the law are typically abused, neglected or ostracized by the high status males in their own milieu, including almost universally, their own father. They are then routinely and systematically mistrusted, mistreated and maligned by a parade of older male teachers, principals, truant officers, police officers, probation officers, lawyers, judges and corrections staff. Is it any wonder they crack and end up in life sentences? Is this not the exact result that the dominant males are hoping for? Permanent exile? Just like in tribal times, just like with the Mormon sects?

Every generation maligns the one that follows it. My grandparents hated rock n’ roll, my parents hated punk, I’m supposed to  hate hip hop , my hip hopping nephew will no doubt hate the inter-planetary bleep that his children will obsess over. In a healthy, self-actualized culture this lack of cross generational understanding is nothing more than a source of tension at the Thanksgiving table. But our culture is not healthy.  Doubt and fear permeate the national psyche even in Canada – it is far worse in the USA. People who are unsure of their next mortgage payment, who don’t know how they can afford health care, who feel as though the enemy is at the gates, who wonder if the planet might turn against them operate in siege mentality. The options for the young males in situations like this are twofold: go to war or go into exile. In our culture exile is prison.

High schools are little better than prisons themselves. Many have metal detectors and armed guards. Students are locked in. Fights are almost daily. How bad does this have to get before someone twigs that this is not working anymore? How far will this war on youth go? I don’t have answers for this but I do have a suggestion that I hope you all take up with me.

It is time to start working for teen suffrage. Before women’s suffrage women were routinely marginalized, abused, incarcerated (often in lunatic asylums), disenfranchised and exploited. They had no power and they had no voice because they had no vote. Sound familiar? I’m joining the call to lower the voting age to 16, with voting for 14 year-olds available based on testing, like a driver’s license. Let’s not forget that the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 in response to American men being drafted to fight in Vietnam before they could vote.

Now teenagers are being tried as adults, they are trapped in an education system that nobody thinks is working, they are supporting themselves, they are plugged in and informed, they are carrying the dreams of their parents on their shoulders,  they are raising their siblings, they are inventing apps, they are joining campaigns, they are protesting, tweeting, facebooking and blogging. They have a voice, but no one is listening because their opinion doesn’t matter to policy makers. They can’t vote; they can’t elect someone.  Who cares?

They are asking for help; they are not getting it. How can we change this?

Rant over.

SHARON G. FLAKE talks about PINNED and GIVEAWAY

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I’m very excited to have Sharon G. Flake, author of many award winning books with me this week, to talk about her upcoming book PINNED. First, let’s blurb:

Autumn and Adonis have nothing in common and everything in common. Autumn is outgoing and has lots of friends. Adonis is shy and not so eager to connect with people. But even with their differences, the two have one thing in common: they’re each dealing with a handicap. For Autumn, who has a learning disability, reading is a painful struggle that makes it hard to focus in class. But as her school’s most aggressive team wrestler, Autumn can take down any problem. Adonis is confined to a wheelchair. He has no legs. He can’t walk or dance. But he’s a strong reader who loves books. Even so, Adonis has a secret he knows someone like Autumn can heal.

In time, Autumn and Adonis are forced to see that our greatest weaknesses can turn into the assets that forever change us and those we love.  Told in alternating voices, Pinned explores issues of self-discovery, friendship, and what it means to be different.

Now let’s get the author’s insight:

Angelhorn: PINNED uses a duel point of view technique that young readers seem to love. In PINNED however you’ve achieved a really strong distinction between the two voices by writing Adonis in more formal mainstream English, while Autumn’s voice is more casual and reflective of her African American culture. This completely suits their characters and really brings their conflicts to life. Could you tell us something about the challenges both of writing in two voices and of writing in a colloquial style?

Sharon G. Flake:  I love the alternating voices myself.  My editor suggested it.  Adonis spends a lot of time trying to get away from Autumn, ignoring her or hoping she’ll go away.  So only writing from her perspective meant that he wasn’t talking to me, the author, either.  Using the first person perspective for Adonis allowed him the freedom to tell his own story, and gave me full access to what was in his head.  That changed everything about the book.  There wasn’t really a challenge writing in two voices.  It was easy for me to go back and forth.  To make sure one character didn’t sound too much like the other, I did have to go over the text again and again.    In the African-American culture, we can say a word or sentence like no one else on the planet.  It’s why I love writing the way so many of us speak.  It’s why so many people want to emulate us, although they don’t always do it well.  It can take twenty standard English words to say what many folks in my culture can say in three very well placed ones.  Now how great is that.

Angelhorn: There are some very supportive and encouraging teachers, coaches and librarians in PINNED. What was YOUR school experience like? 

Sharon G. Flake: I always loved school.  I don’t remember all of my teachers but I can’t ever remember having one I truly disliked.  So much is said about teachers and librarians these days.  If we aren’t careful we will find ourselves with no one to teach our children.  They aren’t all perfect but so many want students to learn and better themselves.  I love the ones in my book.  They aren’t based on anyone.  They evolved from the story like most of the characters I write about.  I think the readers will enjoy each one of them.

Angelhorn: Autumn is such a great role model for young women. She’s very loving, assertive and uninhibited and physically and morally strong. Also she’s fully aware and accepting of her weaknesses (in reading) and proud of her strengths. I’ve read so many books with very bleak and angsty girls. What made you decide to write Autumn this way?   

Sharon G. Flake: From the beginning she was feisty.  Later for some reason she became quirky.  Maybe because I am a bit quirky myself.  Autumn is clear about her need to tell the world her strengths and weaknesses with no embarrassment.  Not many of us can do that.  It’s a sign of her inner confidence, as well as innocence.  She is certain about everything, except her ability to read better.  It’s been so hard for her.  It’s the only thing she doesn’t believe she can master.   It’s easier for her to think about her talents, her love for Adonis and cooking skills.  I hope her reading challenges will give young people the courage to discuss their own, and like Autumn decide they can be better at it.

Angelhorn: In contrast, Adonis is a sweetly flawed character. He’s so prideful and intolerant and can say very cruel things. In a way his journey is much more difficult than Autumn’s; he seems to have a lot he needs to let go of. But he’s also brilliant, conscientious and responsible – the very antithesis of the “black male teen” stereotype that pervades the popular media. Was this a conscious choice? How do stereotypes inform or drive your writing? 

Sharon G. Flake: I am always saying in my work you don’t know these teens.  They are not perfect, but they are deep and full of so much the world needs to recognize and showcase.  Recently I did a Skype with students in Thailand.  They were reading my novel The Skin I’m In.  Dark skin is a problem in that country.  So here I am with them reading about African American inner city girl saying how much they connect to her.  All problems are universal.  When books about African American youth, Latinos, Irish and others are told, anyone can benefit.  Adonis will free a lot of young men.  Give  them the freedom  to tell their own unique stories of being intellectual, self confident and bold.  Yet as you said he has many things to let go of.  Learning to trust someone outside of himself is part of Adonis’s journey.  And Autumn is the perfect person to walk it with him.  

Angelhorn: Your writing appeals to everyone, but especially to young people of color, who can see themselves on the covers and in the pages of all your books. Is there extra responsibility that goes along with writing for this audience?   

Sharon G. Flake:  Maybe.  I just try to do my best.  Everyone won’t be happy.  There will be times when I probably will have to say oh man I blew that.  Adonis would tell me “There is absolutely no excuse for that to happen.”  Autumn on the other hand would say,  “Don’t worry, try again tomorrow.  Hey wanna wrestle?”

 Angelhorn: Can you tell us a bit about what  you are working on now?  

Sharon G. Flake: Well I just sold a picture book about a duck!  My first picture book.  I’m writing about more teens but mum is the world on details…something else very different from me.  Wrestling with Autumn freed me up a bit I guess. It took five years to write.  It went through many changes.  I went through many including writer’s block, fear, change of my writing process, fear, learning to trust others, did I say fear?  Fear that maybe for the first time ever I wouldn’t be able to deliver a book.  Fear that I  wouldn’t be able to write another novel.  Wrestling with characters and a storyline that kept shifting, You hit a wall sometime.  That’s life.  Now what will you do?  That is what happens in my novel too, I suppose.  Autumn hits that wall.  What will she do now that her back is pressed to it? Adonis hits his own wall.  Will he stay the same or grow?  We all grew, me, Adonis, Autumn.  Now ain’t that what life is all about? 

Yes! I couldn’t agree more. And anyone who has ever seriously tried to write something knows that feeling of being up against the wall. Thanks so much for your thoughts, Sharon and good luck with your duck book; I have a duck book too! My first novel was about a duck.

PINNED hits bookstores October 1st 2012. I was lucky enough to score an ARC at ALA12. I’m giving away this ARC. To enter comment, and follow this blog and follow me on twitter to enter into a draw to win this ARC. If you do all three you get three entries.

People of Color Reading Challenge and Book Tweets.

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OMG, May. What a month for authors who aren’t me. For some reason May was all about reading and not so much about writing. I hardly even blogged. I think because I started the month out by going to Vegas and maybe what happened in Vegas actually did stay in Vegas or something, along with all my ambition, self-discipline and ideas.

Actually it’s not as bad as all that. The truth is a character popped into my head late April and has been torturing me slowly to death ever since. The only escape has been reading about OTHER tortured characters so that’s what I’ve done to the tune of more than twenty books!

I’ll begin with my ongoing commitment to reading books by and about People of Color for the People of Color Reading Challenge. The breakdown goes like this:

KARMA by Cathy Ostlere. I really adored this verse novel about a young indo-Canadian girl getting caught up in the unrest in India after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. This is both everything that a verse novel should be – poetic, visual, emotional and lyrical – as well as everything that a novel about a non-white/mainstream culture CAN be; it feels very universal. The protagonist and narrator, 16 year old Maya, starts out naïve and innocent but when thrust into unimaginable danger doesn’t suddenly become Katniss Everdeen. Her reactions and struggles are realistic and not idealized. I loved how romantic this book is too.

MUCHACHO, by LouAnne Johnson. I rather enjoyed this short but uplifting book by the author of the book that inspired the film DANGEROUS MINDS. Notwithstanding the ubiquitous white savior school teacher trope that forms a backdrop to this story, MUCHACHO is a well plotted and fun to read story about a kid who likes to pretend he’s a lot dumber than he actually is, until a pretty smart girl changes his mind. Maybe this book is a bit idealized. It seems a bit easy for Eddie to avoid getting drawn into a gang for example, but maybe that’s just me expecting a stereotyped story. This is surprisingly gentle story that I would recommend for middle graders who are ready to graduate to YA fare. There is some language but sex is treated very responsibly  so it would be appropriate for readers from about 11+.

ALL THE BROKEN PIECES by Ann E Burg. This verse novel made me cry, which rarely happens. The story of Matt Pin,  a Vietnamese boy who is airlifted after the fall of Saigon the story deals with his coming to terms with all that he lost in the family and life he left behind in Vietnam.  This is an emotionally impactful book that uses baseball as a kind panacea, a typically American idea, but one that works superbly well in this instance. A quick but far from easy read, but also another great one for mature younger readers.

BOY21 Matthew Quick. Can I tell you how much I loved this book? Here’s another sports oriented story for boys, but one that is so full of fun and mystique  and sadness and hope that I wanted to take a great big bite out of it after I read it. I simply loved all the characters, especially BOY21 whose eccentricity and dignity made me want to believe everything he said. Love love loved this book. I would recommend it especially to reluctant boy readers, and apart from some minor language and “off-screen”  gang violence themes, has no content that would objectionable to younger readers 11+. The romance between the narrator and his girlfriend is oddly chaste in fact, almost old fashioned. I think BOY21 should marry STARGIRL and fill the YA universe with odd and sweet brown skinned babies.

LAST NIGHT I SANG TO THE MONSTER by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. I was not expecting this book to be so harrowing. Brilliant and brutal and unrelenting,  the book is about a very disturbed young man’s experience in detox and rehab for alcoholism. The book is emotional visceral and not for the faint of heart, but the characters and relationships are unforgettable.  I liked that Zach is really the only teenager in this book (at least in the linear story), which made it less YA-ish and more universal. Little time got wasted and stupid high school politics etc. It was more about the deep issues.

KICK by Walter Dean Myers and  Ross Workman. Sorry but this one didn’t do it for me. Ross Workman, a high school student, somehow managed to convince Walter Dean Myers to collaborate on a book with him and this is the result. Meh. Read like a book written by one writer with no experience and another who was phoning it in. Certainly not to the stellar heights that Walter Dean Myers usually flies. Nicely written, but poorly plotted with weak characterization and way too much soccer. Way longer than it needed to be too. I love Walter Dean Myers but this one, not so much.

So that’s it for books about and/or by people of color. But there was a lot of other reading this month, much of it I tweeted about:

Just read THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LARRY by @JanetTashjian . A clever, pertinent and quick read. Lots of fun and thought provoking.

Damn you @barrylyga I started reading FANBOY at 11:30pm last night. Finished at 4am. Now a wee bit tired. I ❤ FANBOY.

Want to tweet and tweet on ALL THE BROKEN PIECES by Ann E. Burg which made me cry. But neither she nor her peeps seem to tweet. @scholastic

LOVE AND LEFTOVERS BY Sarah Tregay Sweet easy read, romantic and sexy. #amreading

Holy crap, BOY21 by @MatthewQuick21 is a good book. Irish pride, aliens, basketball, mobsters, astronomy; this book has everything.

THE BIG CRUNCH by @petehautman is the cutest. book. ever. Could not put it down. Love Wes and June so much. They’re adorable. GabriellePrendergast ‏@GabrielleSaraP

Devoured EXPOSURE by @ThereseFowler today.Unlike most contemp YA (omniscient 3rd person POV, past tense) but So.Effing.Good. #unputdownable

Marathon session with LAST NIGHT I SANG TO THE MONSTER by@BenjaminAlireSa . Beautiful, suspenseful and real. #amreading

@CaroleeJDean COMFORT left me feeling drained but not defeated. Perfect blend of southern melodrama, teen angst, country music and poetry.

My #fridayreads NO MATTER HOW LOUD I SHOUT BY @edwardhumes So far, infuriating, sad, and illuminating.

WINTERGIRLS by Laurie @halseanderson. Bleak and unremitting, but something I wish I’d read at 16. #notquiteTHATbad

KARMA by @CathyOstlere 5 out of 5 stars. So beautiful, romantic and poetic. #iloveversenovels

finished @CaroleeJDean ‘s TAKE ME THERE. Pretty unputdownable, esp towards the end.Will now kill for ARC of FORGET ME NOT

Just finished THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by @kaaauthor. Now freaking out about how prolific this author is. Whatever she’s on, I want some.

That’s not all. I read a few other things including some very trashy steamy romance I got from NetGalley. I won’t review those since I’m aiming (and missing by a mile, fuck it all) for PG here.

Anyway, now it’s June, it’s my sister’s birthday. My NaNo book is still not finished. I have another character basically Gaslighting me into writing him out. I’m waiting for notes or news from my agent.

Business as usual.

WE WERE HERE by Matt De La Peña

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NOTICE: If you have come here for help with your homework on this book, please see my more recent post here.

Matt De La Peña was one of the contributors to a recent Up For Debate segment on the New York Times website with his piece Seeing Themselves in Books. After reading this piece I was excited to read De La Peña’a book We Were Here which he mentions in the article.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When it happened, Miguel was sent to Juvi. The judge gave him a year in a group home—said he had to write in a journal so some counselor could try to figure out how he thinks. The judge had no idea that he actually did Miguel a favor. Ever since it happened, his mom can’t even look at him in the face. Any home besides his would be a better place to live.

But Miguel didn’t bet on meeting Rondell or Mong or on any of what happened after they broke out. He only thought about Mexico and getting to the border to where he could start over. Forget his mom. Forget his brother. Forget himself.

Life usually doesn’t work out how you think it will, though. And most of the time, running away is the quickest path right back to what you’re running from.

Sometimes it’s refreshing when a book delivers pretty much exactly what its blurb promises. Despite being pretty long, it’s a very contained story about the protagonist, Miguel and two “friends”, Mong and Rondell going on the run from a juvenile detention home. Other characters pop in and out, but mainly these three drive the story.

I loved the kind of mash up between classical road trip/buddy story and contemporary “issue” based YA. They were pretty much a perfect fit in fact. Miguel’s voice was very authentic but not self-consciously “street” and his insights felt realistic to who he was, a smart kid on the run from himself.

I chose this book because of De La Peña’s article, but also because of the commitment I have made to the People of Color Reading Challenge for 2012. It’s interesting reading a book with this in mind. I’ve read many books by and about people of color, and not given it much thought. A good story is a good story, right? But reading We Were Here I couldn’t help thinking of the YA Highway article from last year that haunts me to this day. In particular I was thinking about what Nicola Richardson calls the ‘Not Quite Black Trope’

“1) The “Not Quite Black” Trope.

This happens quite a lot in movies and television. A Biracial character will be used as a stand-in for a Black character. This is done because some assume that white readers will be more comfortable with a character who shares half their racial identity and therefore is less Black.

Now I want to stress that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Biracial characters or people. But this tactic doesn’t work with readers of color at all. It also happens to other minorities, too. A perfect example is Taylor Lautner. He is NOT Native American, but because he had some in his ancestry, he was cast in Twilight. What exactly was wrong with giving a Native American actor a chance since Jacob is Native American in the books? The trope is what’s wrong. Readers of color want to see characters that look like them in books. It also does a disservice to White readers. I am quite sure that many of them won’t run shrieking in horror because they see a character of color.” (Nicola Richardson, YA Highway Feb 2011)

The protagonist of We Were Here, Miguel is half Mexican; his mother is white. I hope that to readers of Mexican descent he was “Mexican enough”. Maybe it’s different when the author shares the heritage of their characters. I’d hate to see writers hesitating to write biracial characters because they are worried it’s a trope.

Needless to say, I disagree strongly with Richardson about the “Not Quite Black Trope” but as a white writer that’s not up to me, I suppose. Nevertheless, I’ll continue to write “Not Quite Black” characters as the mood takes me. I hope Matt De La Peña will too.

BOOK Tweets – March 2012

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It’s been a slow reading month for me. I’ve been writing hard though, so that’s my excuse. That said, lots of the reading I’ve done this month has a funny story attached to it, so this Book Tweets post will have a little something extra.

So early in the month everyone was talking about 50 SHADES OF GREY and I heard about it over and over.  I also read a review on Forever Young Adult about WARM BODIES by Isaac Marion. Then one of my tweeps reminded me of WARM BODIES when he joked about zombie love. That night I dreamt a mash-up of WARM BODIES and 50 SHADES. In other words I dreamt a zombie BSDM movie. Needless to say, I woke up in a bit of a disturbed state. Naturally the first thing I did was tweet about it, of course letting Isaac Marion in on it. We went on to have a highly amusing and inappropriate twitter exchange about zombies and BDSM, after which I felt obligated to read his book.

This was my tweet:

Finished WARM BODIES by @isaacinspace . Really loved it. Funny, whimsical, yet oddly real. #ilovezombies

To which he replied:

@GabrielleSaraP #iloveprendergast

Awww. What a sweetie.

Earlier in the month I read GODLESS by Pete Hautman.

Finshed GODLESS by @petehautman I really loved it. Funny, dramatic, irreverent and real. Will blog a proper review tomorrow or Sunday

Since I collect books for atheist teens, I did a full review of this one.

Next, I had a “moment” with John Green.

LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green. Deep, beautiful but infuriating. Maybe that’s the point. Demerits for “thematic” smoking though #yuck

People have been talking about John Green non stop since THE FAULT IN OUR STARS  was released. I  don’t think I’ll read TFIOS (I can’t really do cancer books), but I liked WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON a lot so I thought I would try some other John Green. Now I did like this book, though I was a bit infuriated by…well, read it and I’m sure you’ll know. One thing that won’t be a spoiler to write about is the smoking. Smoking, smoking, all these kids do is smoke!  And it’s not even the smoking that concerns me so much as that it is treated as some kind of special, mind expanding experience, some wonderful shared nirvana, a secret heavenly world that these kids escape to when the pressure of being a teenager becomes to much. That’s right – cigarette smoking. I fully expected to read “This Book was made possible by a generous grant from the Marlboro Tobacco Corporation”. There’s even cigarette smoke on the COVER! All this while Mr. green is rolling in cash and accolades earned by writing about CANCER?! Urgh. To much irony, even for me. This book should come with a disclaimer.

A little Stephanie Perkins cured my Green related malaise.

Finished ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS at 3am! Now a wee bit tired. Curse you @naturallysteph , Could. Not. Stop. Reading.

Stephanie Perkins has tweeted me several times. A lovely tweep who writes lovely books. I hope she’s at ALA in June. I’d love to meet her IRL. And I can’t wait to read the third book in this cycle: ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

I could probably read a book a month by Neal Shusterman. I just love him.

THE SHADOW CLUB is classic @NealShusterman. Suspenseful with a whiff of something dark and unknown and universal. Great read!

Shusterman has never failed to thrill me. This is an earlier book of his, but no less dark and creepy while staying real.

The last two were read as part of my commitment to the 2012 People of Color Reading  Challenge. What I quickly learned this month is that one rarely just happens to read a book with a protagonist or even an author of color. One really has to put a little effort into it. Finally I decided to tackle two reading challenges in one and chose an early chapter book (I’m trying to read a bit more material for younger readers as opposed to all the YA I’ve been reading) and some poetry (because I have to write another verse novel next year). Here are my tweets:

Read ALVIN HO #1 by @lenorelook Loved Alvin. A very cute start to a chapter book series @readingincolor

The full title of this is ALVIN HO: ALLERGIC TO GIRLS, SCHOOL AND OTHER SCARY THINGS. I like this little book. The voice was very cute and there was a smattering of Chinese culture in it which was nice. Alvin is the real strength of this series though. he is almost, but not quite what is increasingly called a “neuro-atypical” protagonist in the sense that he is a selective mute at school. Perhaps why will be explained in later books, but there certainly is enough character there to build a strong series on. Book ! felt a little thin on plot though. Hopefully the subsequent books are more plot driven.

Read a collection of Langston Hughes poetry. Now feel very inspired #langstonhughes

I’ve been meaning to catch up on some more Langston Hughes ever since I assigned a couple of his poems to some 20th C history students a few years back. He definitely didn’t disappoint.  I love his mix of rhyme and free verse and jazz or spiritual inspired verse, as well as the contrast between regional dialect and formal phrasing. In particular I found this little gem, which inspires me in my current WIP:

(From Love Song for Lucinda)

Love
Is a high mountain
Stark in a windy sky
If you
Would never lose your breath
Do not climb too high
 

Read on, friends.