Everyone has been in love, is in love or wants love. It’s universal. Young love is white-hot. Rainbow Rowell has captured its intensity in “Eleanor & Park,” an insightful and honest tale of two people who genuinely need each other.
Park is half-Korean and tries to fly under the radar in his own world of music and comics. Eleanor, with her wild red hair, is new in school, wears weird clothes and comes from a broken family. The two characters–and the reader–fall in love over the course of a school-year in 1986. Like any romance, there are complications, but they’re blips. The real problem is Eleanor’s alcoholic, time-bomb of a step-father. Eleanor and Park make the most of the time that they have–but there’s never enough time when you’re young.
If I haven’t convinced you, John Green loved it and recommended it during his Reddit AMA. I honestly don’t think I’ve cared about a fictional relationship as much as I did in “Eleanor & Park.” I recommend this book to everyone–young, old, everything in-between–who has been in love, is in love or wants love.
“If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.” That quote from Stephen Hawking is at the beginning of “The 5th Wave,” an incredible new Young Adult Science Fiction book by Rick Yancey. The quote is appropriate, because in Yancey’s book most of humanity has been wiped out by a hostile extraterrestrial force. At first, when the alien mothership first appears in the sky, people are hopeful. After four waves of attacks–An EMP blast, epic tsunamis, a plague that kills 9 out of 10 and alien sleeper agents–it’s clear that the aliens want our planet and aren’t going to share it.
Cassie Sullivan, a sarcastic and determined teenager, has survived the first four waves, but now isolates herself in anticipation of the unknown 5th wave. Cassie fills in the blanks of the past, describing how the world and her family were torn apart. It’s vivid and heartbreaking. The 4th wave–alien agents that look human, that Cassie refers to as “Silencers”–have made her extremely paranoid. So, when she meets another survivor, Evan, she has serious issues trusting him. She needs his help, even if she won’t admit it, to rescue Sammy, her brother, who has abducted during the 4th wave. Cassie made a promise to Sammy that she would get back to him. It’s that promise that drives most of the book.
“The 5th Wave” is exciting, mysterious and hard to put down. All of the characters are well-written and distinct. I believe and hope that this is will be the next big thing in YA lit, because it is awesome. I recommend it to fans of “The Hunger Games,” Sci-Fi books, YA books and good books in general. You can watch a brief book trailer here or read a preview here.
Since 2006, the Mission Creek Festival (April 2-7) has been bringing together national and local artists for several exciting spring days of music, performance art, and literature. This year, ICPL is joining the festival programming with its teen concert on April 5, featuring Other Band, Conetrauma, and Bass/Drum.
But beyond this new collaboration, I am personally excited to see Mission Creek’s literary fare continue to grow. How can a book-lover not be excited by this literary lineup? A lit crawl, a small-press book fair, and a “broadway-quality” poetry concert? This is hot stuff.
If you are the type to “try before you buy,” consider checking out some of the writers visiting Iowa City for this year’s literary events. We don’t have everything, but the Iowa City Public Library does have works by the following exciting authors and poets:
Today is the day Children’s and Young Adult Librarians live for. The winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz and the whole host of lesser known American Library Association Youth Media Awards are announced. Without further ado, some video teasers for the big winners this year.
Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished picture book: This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. Klassen pulled a rare double by also winning a Caldecott Honor for his illustrations for Extra Yarn by Mark Barnett.
Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
A video from Zoo Atlanta of the actual Ivan who died this summer.
Printz Medal for Young Adult Literature: An interview with Nick Lake discusses his inspiration for In Darkness.
Every so often, there’s a book that makes me stay up reading despite the fact that I’m very tired. Every Day, by David Levithan, was one of those books. It’s a young adult novel about A, who wakes up each morning in a different body living a different life. A’s life has always been this way and it (A considers itself genderless) has always tried to not screw up the host’s life that day. That is until it spends a day in Justin’s body and falls in love with his girlfriend, Rhiannon. After that fateful meeting, A uses its host bodies to try and get back to her. They start a relationship, but the problems of A’s existence eventually catch up with them.
For some reason, my mind focuses on the bad things about this book–it gets a bit preachy, Rhiannon is underdeveloped and the ending is kind of creepy. But I still really liked it. Maybe it’s the concept itself that I like so much. I also really sympathized with A, because it couldn’t have any lasting relationships. So, I wanted it all to work out between A and Rhiannon. Anyway, I recommend Every Day to anyone who thinks the basic concept sounds interesting.
Here is a short list of books that I enjoyed from the last year:
The Fault In Our Stars – John Green
Signature John Green elements are evident throughout this heartbreaking Young Adult love story : quirky characters, whip-smart dialogue, unattainable love interests, a sidekick, and a quest to find meaning in this world. This time he deals with the growing relationship between two teenagers who meet through a cancer therapy group and end up going to great lengths to find out the unwritten ending to a life-changing book.
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
A fluffy weekend thriller novel that can be compared to a Lifetime movie plot, I enjoyed the conversation this book sparked more than the book itself. A difference of opinion regarding a book can be just the thing to get you out of a reading slump (no, this does not mean I’m going to read 50 Shades). I rarely get a chance to discuss books with colleagues and patrons to the degree that I’ve been able to with Gone Girl. Some loved the carefully revealed spoilery twists and others slogged through and wondered who cared? Would make a great book club choice.
Broken Harbor – Tana French
Although French’s mysteries follow most police procedural conventions, the emphasis is generally on a deeply personal connection between the Detective and their assignment, usually with difficult resolutions. Detective “Scorcher” Kennedy is paired with a rookie and their roles of teacher and student are tested while assigned to a homicide in Broken Harbor, a failed new housing community outside of Dublin, Ireland. French’s plotting is flawless, her descriptions are vivid, the police dialogue is authentic and convincing, and the outcome is devastating.
Londoners : The Days and Nights of London Now – As Told By Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long For It – Craig Taylor
I’m an unabashed Anglophile, so when I saw Craig Taylor had edited a 400 page book of tales from London’s residents I knew I had to be first on the hold list. Taylor spent years interviewing a wide variety of residents of London and their impressions about the city, we’re treated to some short humorous tales interspersed with truly heartfelt odes to a hometown with a long history. I was reminded of Studs Terkel’s collections at times but found it worked best to read only a few chapters in a sitting. It would make a great travel companion guide, I often wished I was walking around the boroughs referenced in the tales.
From 500,000 years ago to today, Jim Murphy and Alison Blank explore hardy tuberculosis in Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-ending Search for a Cure. In addition to the skeleton of a 500,000 year-old young male in Western Turkey, depictions in art and literature establish its widespread existence throughout human history around the world. Because of the microscopic nature of the disease, it was not until 1880 that its cause was discovered. The result was a long history of cruel and ineffective treatments until some success with sanitoriums in the 1800s and then, finally, in 1943 a sick chicken led to the discovery of streptomycin.
As well as the process of scientific discovery, the social impact of tuberculosis is given extensive treatment by Murphy and Blank. The poor were often denied treatment, but campaigns to improve sanitation conditions in cities were beneficial to the poor. TB even played a role in early battles over Mexican immigration to California and the American Medical Association’s membership restrictions and their mostly successful attempts to close African American medical schools.
Despite the record of progress in the fight against TB, the threat of drug-resistant strains of TB means it continues to threaten today’s world making this an important read for current as well as historical interest. Fortunately, the ongoing fight to treat and diagnose TB is getting help many quarters including the fifteen -pound Gambian pouched rat that can successfully sniff out tuberculosis bacilli!
One of the best parts about working at ICPL is getting to talk to patrons about books. Recently I had a conversation with a patron who had just listened to a great audio book. He liked not only the story but how the book was read.
Last weekend I took a road trip, and remembering his recommendation I checked out a copy of SCAT by Carl Hiaasen. As I hit the road and started the first disc I was surprised to hear none other than Ed Asner reading to me.
SCAT, by Carl Hiaasen, is a mystery for young teens set in Florida. When Mrs. Starch, the most feared Biology teacher at The Truman School takes her class on a field trip to the Black Vine Swamp in the Everglades, the kids expect nothing more than a day swatting mosquitoes. But then a grass fire breaks out, and as everyone is herded along the boardwalk back to the buses, Mrs Starch heads back into the smoke to retrieve a student’s dropped inhaler.
The next day the Headmaster announces that Mrs. Start has taken an indefinite leave of absence due to a family emergency. But two of her students, Nick and Marta, don’t believe it. No one has seen Mrs. Starch since she headed back into the smoke, and as far as anyone knows she has no family. Nick is positive he heard the cry of an endangered Florida Panter as they were being rushed out of the swamp. Nick and Marta intend to find out what’s going on, and if the kid at their school named “Smoke” had anything to do with the fire.
Telling and retelling fairy tales is a tricky business. It is not simply that everyone already knows how the story ends that makes it difficult either. A fairy tale is not defined by its plot or its characters, however familiar. Neither is it defined by its fantastic elements nor even its antiquity. Of course, many fairy tales have all of those things, but that is not what makes them what they are. A fairy tale is defined by the breathless wonder and inexplicable power tied up in the story itself. Stories, clever and ancient and wise, that capture our imagination again and again and again no matter how many times we hear them. It is this that defines a fairy tale, and this that makes them almost impossible to retell.
Alethea Kontis, in her new young adult novel Enchanted, has managed the almost impossible. She takes the familiar stories, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, the Princess and the Frog, even the Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe, breaks them up into their component parts, and recombines them into a fairy tale that is at once new and old, full of wonder and magic and humanity. She braids the tales together around a single family, the Woodcutters, who live in a rather shoe-shaped house at the edge of the Wood. Peculiar and magical things keep happening to this particular family, and in the midst of it all the seventh daughter, Sunday, wanders off into the Wood and meets a frog named Grumble who lives in an old wishing well. Grumble and Sunday become friends, and, soon enough, fall in love. When Sunday gives Grumble a hurried kiss goodbye, he is transformed back into the prince he was. Unfortunately, that cannot be the end of the story. The prince is the son of a nameless and ageless king, the godson of a fairy named Sorrow, and at the heart of the Woodcutter family’s most bitter loss. So he invites all the women in the kingdom to three midnight balls to hide the fact he wishes to invite only one. And in the meantime Sunday discovers more than she ever wished to know about herself and her family.
This story is not a lighthearted one, nor is it a tale for children. It retains the spirit of the old tales it repeats — dark, bloody and captivating. This is a tale of magic and wonder, yes, but it is also a story about a young woman searching for love, hope and independence, of a family burdened with secrets, and of a young man looking for redemption. And amid these profoundly human trials we find the ancient words of wisdom from those old familiar stories: One good turn deserves another. Words have power. Be careful what you wish for. And above all, true love’s kiss will break the curse.