Monday, February 18, 2013

The books I keep talking about

As they're supposed to do, this year's awards have brought good books to my attention that I might not otherwise have discovered. The day of the ALA announcements, I placed library holds on 7 titles that I hadn't read yet and that interested me. I'm still waiting on a few, but most reached me surprisingly quickly, and as a result, I've had a good few weeks of reading. Thoughts so far:

Where'd You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple, an Alex winner: Knowing a few good adult-to-YA crossovers is helpful at both ends of the store, and I heard this one was funny., so... And oh, it is. It's mainly a documentary novel, showing letters, emails, and other tidbits compiled by an eighth grader to figure out how her mother has vanished. Those tidbits are hilarious and often poignant, and I breezed through most of this on a bus ride from Boston to Albany.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth, a Morris finalist: This one was a harder read, about a teen in early-'90s Montana who struggles with her sexuality in a thoroughly unsupportive environment. Well written and compelling, but very much for mature teens, and definitely requires tissues and a happy read afterwards. (I chased it with Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made.) Note: readers looking for a similarly mature but slightly less heavy read on this topic might want to try A.S. King's Ask the Passengers.

Bomb: The Race to Built-and Steal-the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin, winner of multiple honors: I was impressed. Military history and science aren't my fields of choice, but Sheinkin includes an amazing amount of human detail, often using direct quotes from those involved in the construction of the atomic bomb. He also explains the science clearly enough that at one point, I found myself thinking, "If it was that simple, why hadn't anyone thought of it before?"

In Darkness, by Nick Lake, the Printz medalist (currently reading): I'd heard from multiple sources that this was slow going, which I think made me put on my Super Concentration Hat, because I've been really into it so far. It jumps back and forth between the stories of Toussaint L'Ouverture and Shorty, a modern teen trapped after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, with the magical realism twist that each has visions of the other. I'll be curious to see how the parallel narratives ultimately come together. In the meantime, the language and the glimpses into Haitian culture have grabbed me, probably because it's written with an eye toward accessibility for non-Haitian readers. I'd recommend this to any teen or adult who likes historical fiction, with the caveat that it is very violent.

I may need some more happy chasers, or just a break to read Janie Face to Face (you know you want to know how the Face on the Milk Carton story ends up). But there's definitely more award reading in my near future. After all, Seraphina can't stay on my to-read-floor-because-the-to-read-shelf-is-full forever.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How Ellen's Broom swept me off my feet

This Valentine's Day, I give you a book from the award shelf.

Ellen's Broom, by Kelly Starling Lyons, came to my attention because it won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Daniel Minter's beautiful linoleum block prints. It's set in a part of history that I don't think I've seen covered in a children's book (the Addy books, maybe?): soon after the Civil War, when marriages between slaves became legally recognized and registered. Like many slaves, Ellen's parents jumped a broom to signify their marriage; in fact, that broom is hanging on the family's wall. But they knew that on its own, that ritual provided them no legal protection, and many couples like them were sold apart from each other.

When their marriage is finally registered, “Papa kisse[s] Mama and twirl[s] her in the air like a new bride,” and the legal recognition means a lot to Ellen, too; in particular, she smiles at the addition of her own name to the legal record. Still, she says that when she gets married one day, she'd like to jump a broom in honor of the family's tradition.

Ellen has a loving family before the book begins, but the story's events make her feel that the outside world thinks that family is real, that the relationships within it matter. Others may read the story differently - and I don't mean to appropriate this story for modern discourse's sake, only to highlight a parallel that struck me - but it reminded me of more contemporary discussions of what marriages should be legally recognized.

Happy Valentine's Day. Hope you're enjoying relationships of any kind that matter to you.

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