young adult reading

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi

stampedA history of racism. A history of slavery. A serious look at why it is that people believe that they are a superior race. Told in an accessible way which is engaging and real. I listened to the audiobook because I wanted it immediately after watching a conference keynote between the author of this book Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi who is the author of the book that this is a spinoff from, Stamped from the Beginning which won the National Book Award. It was moving, one of the most powerful talks I’ve ever seen.

This book is a must if you want to be in touch with the Black Lives Matter movement, if you’ve wondered why people are so angry, why statues are toppling around the world. This book is written so that teenagers will have an insight, will know their history, but it is a book that will work for anyone. There is power in the words in this book. The power to inspire people to make change, to adjust attitudes. This is a book to hand to someone who makes the racist comment, the off colour comment.

Jason Reynolds said something that I’ll always remember. If you have a disease you work to find a vaccine, the vaccine hurts but in the end it does good. Being anti-racist actively and consciously is the vaccine, you have to tackle those who are racist for their own good and the good of the world.

Read this book, learn stuff and make a better world with the knowledge you gain

Burn by Patrick Ness

burn

As I always do with a Patrick Ness, I had pre-ordered this.  I had some worries going into it because the last couple of books haven’t been my faves. I was so hoping he wouldn’t disappoint me with this one. And he hasn’t. This is a return to form. What works best for me with this author is when he doesn’t try to do too much with his stories. This one is a dual storyline but it is way more successful in this novel than in Release. You know that the stories are going to combine and you just can’t wait for that to happen.

It is set in Washington State in the USA in the 1950s there is rampant racism and homophobia and so much judgement of people it makes you quite uncomfortable. Sarah’s dad has just hired a dragon to help with the farm work. The dragon will work to clear paddocks of rocks and trees, he is not to be spoken to and while there is a truce between dragons and humans, you shouldn’t get friendly or close to him. Sarah’s dad is very clear on this. However the dragon knows Sarah’s secret and they begin to talk. At the other end of the country a young man is heading north on a mission to kill Sarah. He has been given a mission from on high and he must fulfil his duty. On the way he will meet another young man who will change his life and also change the future. There is a whole bunch more going on in this book but to reveal too much would be way too spoiler alerty.

I loved Sarah and her dragon. I loved all of the love in the story. There is a lot of love! Love for parents, for other people, for dragons and for humanity. There is also a lot of hate, for those who are different to ourselves, for those we are suspicious of and those we don’t understand. It is the balance of these that makes this story so good.

It is an exciting book to read, there is a heap of tension and a lot of action. Patrick Ness is so good at having his little guys wield enormous power and that is exactly what happens here. Grab a copy for your school, have a read and then share it with all your students. I think they’ll love it!

A Trio of Sophies by Eileen Merriman

SophieI think Eileen Merriman is one of the cream of the crop of writers for young people right now. She writes stories that are immediately engaging, that are the perfect pitch for the audience of young adult readers. Her books have depth and breadth and tackle issues which are current and curly. I think this book is one of her best.

There have always been three Sophies, each different but all good friends. They are in the same class, they have known each other since they were little and their lives are intricately linked. Now in their final year at school, one of the Sophies has gone missing. Despite the efforts of the police, she cannot be found anywhere. This leaves two Sophies and the novel is told by one of them. The swot, the quiet one, the one determined to rise out of her humble life. The story is told in journal form beginning on the 64th day that Sophie has been missing and counting backwards to the day of her disappearance. It is an interesting structure and it works really well. You feel the tension rise, leading up to the day it all went horribly wrong.

Tied up to the disappearance of Sophie A is the story of Sophie M and the English Teacher. A guy who should have known better, a man who shouldn’t be in a room alone with teenage girls. I really liked the way that this aspect of the story was written, the way James Bacon, the English Teacher, draws Sophie in and entangles her in a web of deceit.

This is great writing for teenagers, gritty and real, using language which feels right. A brilliant book for all schools to have in their library collection.

Thanks so much to Penguin NZ for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Please can we have heaps more NZ books like this.

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Doesn’t this blurb just sound awesome, a little bit of geeky sciency stuff, a dollop of social mgravityedia savvy, a great big romantic sky, two young men, completely different, NASA, astronauts and themes of loneliness and isolation, first love and space. Come on, this book appears that it has it all. But, and it’s a big one, it is really hard to connect with these characters. I really wanted to but it just didn’t happen. Now that I’ve been finished it for a week or so I find it hard to remember the characters names or to rekindle feelings for them. I wanted more. I wanted it to be a little bit more gritty, for people to get a bit more messed up by the bad things that happened in the story. People die in here, I’m not telling you who, but that is big, but the reactions of those affected just didn’t seem to hit the mark.
I loved all the social media stuff, loved the villian of the piece, it is all totally unrealistic but I was in there hoping that this would carry me off and give me a great big case of the feels.

It is ok, I know of students who will love it, I’ll buy it and promote it and encourage people to read it, but it could have had a heap more depth.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me access.

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotic by David Arnold

noahReasons to read this book:
The writing: David Arnold completely nails current teen speak. It feels authentic and on point. It feels like he is inside Noah’s mind, with all the fixations and drama of being a teenager, using the internet to answer the big questions, being obsessed with books and music of particular artists especially Bowie, but comic book culture and movies. Remembering phrases from these and quoting from them all the time. There are so many quotable passages in this book, some that make you stop and ponder and want to write them down.
The Relationships: Noah, Alan and Val are such individuals, those of us who work in high schools know these kids. They stand out and are unafraid to be who they are. Noah’s sister Penny is wonderful, a great anchor for the family life with the crazy uncle, the unusual parents and the whole back story of their lives.
The angst: I love how Noah’s sporting life is handled, his injury and the guilt it induces even though the lie is perpetuated despite the bad feelings.
The goodness: This book has so much to offer in the way it deals with kindness and concern, not just for the people Noah knows but with the relationship he forms with an elderly man and his eventual understanding of the way his weird uncle behaves. Noah is eventually wise to how others feel and perceive him and I really liked that growth.

Yes this is thoroughly weird in some ways, but it is a novel which is so relatable and genuinely goodhearted, it made me smile often and it made me think. In YA fiction that is what I’m after. I want to offer my kids books which are different and not cookie cutter and this book is certainly that. All the kids I’ve talked to about this book are keen to get their hands on it and that is a great sign. Give it to your John Green and Rainbow Rowell fans. Give it to those who want to read something real and unfettered. They’ll thank you for it.

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

ghostThe beginning of this book is so thoroughly creepy I was hooked from the first lines. A young girl tied to a stake about to be burned to death, everyone is watching and nobody is helping her. The tone changes immediately and you realise that you have been reading the ending and now you spend your time wondering how those horrific scenes will come about. Creeping menace, lots and lots of it, abound in this book!

Sil’s family are spending the summer in an experimental archeology exercise in Northumberland close to the moors and near to the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall. They are living life as it was in the bronze age. Wearing tunics, living in a primitive tent together, cooking over a fire and foraging for everything they eat. It is not fun at all. Sil’s dad is a domineering, bully of a man. Her mum is meek and mouselike. She is beaten and submissive to her husband. Sil has become used to doing exactly what her dad requires because it is easier and she is less likely to end up with bruises. The way that Sarah Moss has written him is so good, you really feel his simmering anger! Along with Sil and her family, there are 3 university students and their professor who are living the ancient lifestyle with them as part of their studies. One of the students is a young woman who becomes close to Sil and who, partly inadvertently, leads Sil astray and into danger.

This is a small book with a great big story. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a book which would appeal to reluctant readers due to the instant entry into the action and the easy vocabulary. It is very well written and I’m going to be buying copies for school. I would recommend it for junior high school age students. Although it is set in Britain near the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall I think that young people anywhere would relate to it.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to this book.

A response to the question Why Don’t Kids Read NZ Young Adult?

Tonight I have read an article in the wonderful The Sapling which has made me cross.  I’m responding here because I’m forming my thoughts and this is my blog and therefore my opinion.  This is a bit stream of consciousness, so apologies for it’s rantishness.

In the article, promoting her book review site, Eirlys Hunter makes the argument that NZ kids don’t read young adult fiction written by New Zealanders. She asked teenagers if they had read Margaret Mahy, and they hadn’t heard of her.  I can assure her that she is right in supposing that teenagers currently at school right now will never have read Mahy or Tessa Duder or a heap of other NZ writers who were popular in the 90s. This is for a really good reason.  These books will have been weeded from libraries long ago. We have to keep our collections current, they have to cater to the tastes of our current students.  If we cater to students by providing the books they should read, we will have no readers.

Now, I’ve been working in school libraries for nearly 18 years now, I have never read the Tricksters, The Catalogue of the Universe or Memory, in all honesty I’ve not even heard of them. While they might be admirable books, they are not books that I would ever attempt to pitch at a 14 year old in 2017.  But maybe a movie of The Changeover will start a Margaret Mahy resurgence, but maybe not.  Books and authors are not perennial in the YA world.  Despite the marvellousness they might have, they fade.  It is totally the same as with adult books.  20 years ago everyone was reading Robert Ludlum and Tom Clancy, now they are not (I do understand that they are not literature!)

If you ask some students now if they have read some of the common crop of New Zealand authors, people like Mary Anne Scott, Brian Faulkner, Fleur Beale and Melinda Szymanik you will find that there are quite a few who have.  Definitely not lots of them, but definitely some.  These are students who have either had a book sold to them by an awesome librarian, or they have come across the book been attracted in some way, in some cases this is definitely because of the cover!  There are certainly some dreadful covers floating around the NZ YA world.

I don’t think it is true that NZ YA is better than other places, there is some pretty ordinary stuff published here sometimes, but there is also some excellent stuff.  It is the same in every country.  The Self-publishing boom is getting even more books out there, and a few of those are great.  But when the Council tell us that only a small percentage of teenagers read, and some of the borrowing stats around the country would bear that out, you need to do more than just tell people that they should be reading books ‘from the olden days’.  Our teenagers want the cool stuff.  They are totally influenced by social media and librarians who are purchasing books are equally impressed.

It is a strange thing that reading, which is supposed to be pleasurable and a lovely thing to do, can so often be treated as a ‘should’ kind of thing by some of us.  That students are asked to write ‘proper’ reviews, of at least 500 words.  Surely that just turns something that could be fun, into something that is now work.  A surefire way to kill a love of reading is to make it a chore. Or worse, to make it homework.  Kids are already doing all kinds of other stuff which is drawing on their time, they don’t need to be guilted into writing pedantic reviews.  There are kids who yearn to be published authors, there are heaps who are writing for fun in their spare time but forcing it, taking away the joy and insisting on terms which are outdated and irrelevant to their lives.  We old people have to accept that the world has changed.  And engage with what youth think is cool.  Want to see some decent reviews by the target audience.  Go to this Goodreads List.  Read the reviews of people who read YA.  Who are the target audience for YA.  And then go and check out this You Tube channel.  There are lots of people who do this stuff.  They are not the book reviews of old, they are much more likely to be read by teenagers and they are the opposite of ‘proper’ book reviews, but I can guarantee the books are more likely to be read by teens when they are recommended in this way.  So yes, peers are the way to sell books to teenagers, But don’t discount librarians working in their libraries recommending books to readers, selecting great books and chatting to readers every day.

I want to address a comment in the article:

A side issue: how is it possible that, in many secondary schools, a student can study English for five years without meeting a single New Zealand book on the curriculum?).

Well that is simple.  They haven’t been set as prescribed texts.  Schools can teach whatever books they like.  They tend to go for books from which they have seen great exam responses in previous exams.  Some of the books they do read are amazing.  In our school we have class sets of books by David Hill, Denis Wright, David Hair, all New Zealanders, while some students might not encounter those books, lots will.  And there is another thing, you need to get teachers to read the books.  In every school, in every English Department, you struggle to find a bunch of teachers who are reading YA, let alone those reading NZ YA.  There is a lot of good talk about reading and it’s importance to literacy by English teachers across the land, but very little in the way of reading the product and .  It constantly amazes school librarians!

And while I’m ranting, were you aware that it is considered in literacy circles that school librarians are inherently connected with literacy in schools! Yes, I know.  Ridiculous, but it is a fact.

I could go on.  But it is late and there is a leaders debate to watch.

 

 

The Project by Brian Faulkner

Brian Faulkner is fast becoming one of the really reliable authors for young adult books in New Zealand.  His books have a great sense of adventure that is easy to sell to teenagers – particularly boys.  I haven’t read Brainjack which was the release before this one but I did enjoy The real thing and The tomorrow code (except for the hideous final chapter which I tell all the boys not to read).  I think his specialty is the chase scene.  Good guys versus bad in a race against time.  That seems to be the recurring theme in his books and for fast paced adventure books he is the ‘go to man’ of the moment.

The story travels from the modern day America back in time to Nazi Germany via a book, the most boring book in the world. Which of course turns out to be a book written in code.

I really enjoyed this book, he kept me interested all the way through, I knocked it off in two sittings and I thought he handled the time travel aspect really well.  I really liked the fact that the book was set in the USA but the main character had links back to New Zealand, cute!  I might even have to go and read Brainjack now!