Thursday, January 17, 2008

Book Report: YA Fantasy

Going back to the reading role models topic, I've since remembered that we have seen Sawyer on Lost scavenging the airplane wreckage for books and hanging out on the beach with his nose in a book. It does seem like (based on what I recall from when I watched the show and the screencaps I've seen) there was a surprisingly large amount of classic literature or books on that unspoken "approved" list on that plane. Based on what I've seen people reading on planes in my travels, I'd have expected there to be more Nora Roberts, James Patterson and the latest Oprah pick than things like Watership Down, The Fountainhead and things by Charles Dickens. Unless maybe a flight from Australia to the US is when people try to catch up on those books they feel like they should read, so it's a different mix from domestic flights.

After reading the comments on that post, I feel very fortunate that I don't recall ever being put down or mocked for being a bookworm. If I was, it must not have sunk in at all, possibly because books have always been something I enjoyed and are so much a part of the way I live my life, so I wouldn't have given much credence to anyone who didn't feel the same way. While I do think that the way literature is taught in our schools has a lot to do with why so many people don't read for pleasure, I have had teachers who found their own way of encouraging reading. My fourth-grade teacher calmed us down after recess by reading a chapter of a book to us each day. That was where I discovered the joys of Roald Dahl. My sixth-grade English teacher had us spend a certain amount of each class day reading, had a shelf of books in her classroom to check out, and the way we got credit for reading was to privately give her a summary of the book in six sentences. That's where I learned to sum up books, and it's a skill I still use in query letters and promotional materials. My seventh-grade social studies teacher started each class with reading time, and there was an approved list of magazines we could read during that time, or we could read any book. Therefore, almost every seventh grader brought a book to school every day, so I wasn't such an oddball for doing so.

And speaking of reading during those years, I've been kind of on a young adult kick lately, so here's the book report:

Golden by Jennifer Lynn Barnes -- this was a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit feature a couple of years ago, and I finally read it. It gives a paranormal twist to high school cliques, as our heroine can see people's auras and how they interconnect. That ability also helps her see that there is something seriously dangerous going on in her school, but it's kind of difficult to tell people that she thinks there's danger because someone's aura looks wrong -- and it would definitely be the kiss of death for her social life. Even though this is a "teen" book about high school life, I almost think that people who have survived high school might find it even more interesting because of the perspective you have looking back on that. It also had me imagining what people around me would look like if I saw their auras.

Then there were two by Shannon Hale. The Goose Girl is a novelized retelling of the classic fairy tale about the princess who resorts to tending geese when her lady-in-waiting steals her identity on the journey to wed a neighboring kingdom's prince. In my library, it was shelved in children's fiction, not even young adult, and while it's totally kid-safe and the kind of thing I was reading at about nine, it could totally fit on the adult shelf. It didn't feel like a YA book to me, and it had fairly complex language and imagery (I guess it's the way that the supposed "children's" show Doctor Who seems way more mature to me than the supposedly "adult" Torchwood -- sex, violence and language aren't what defines maturity). This was a really lovely book, and as it's the start of a series, I now want to read the rest.

I also read The Princess Academy by the same author. It's probably aimed at younger readers and the type in the edition I read was a bit larger, but once I got into the book it was just a story, and I wasn't conscious of the classification. It's about what happens when the king's prophets say the prince's bride will come from a particular remote mountain village, so all the girls of the village are forced to attend a school to teach them to be proper princesses before they attend the ball where the prince will choose his wife. But educating the girls of this poor, remote village has unintended social consequences. This was a fun book that's very sweet. It might also make a good read-aloud book for younger kids.

On a darker, edgier note, Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr was a big bestseller last year. It's about a teenage girl who has always been able to see the fey as they move around the world, and she knows it's dangerous to ever let on that she can see them. But then they start stalking her, and she learns that the Summer King has chosen her for his queen, which makes it all very hard to ignore, and she faces some huge choices. I loved the use of folklore in a modern setting and the darker, scarier, less-cute version of fairies. It was also a real page turner.

And now, even though it's quite cold outside, I'm contemplating a walk to the library because I'm midway through the last book from my last batch, and I now have three books I put on hold that are waiting for me -- and this branch is closed on Friday. What would I do if I ran out of books while the library was closed? Horrors! Not that I don't have tons of unread books lying around the house, but I really want all the ones I'd put on hold, and since a couple of them were on a long wait list, I don't want to risk missing out.

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