No Castles Here by A.C.E. Bauer

No Castles HereWhat I need, Augie thought, is a fairy godmother. She’d wave her magic wand, and poof, all my problems would disappear.

But nothing seemed to make his tormentors disappear.  Although Augie’s body was healing and his glasses were fixed, Dwaine, Sergio, and FoX Tooth dogged him wherever he went. His only refuge during the day was their classroom.  The class didn’t mess with Mr. Franklin.”

Augie is a scrawny kid from Camden, New Jersey.  He knows what to do: keep quiet, keep out of the way of the thugs and dealers, and try not to draw attention to himself.  It’s not fun, but it’s his life and he’s pretty good at managing.

However, it’s changing. One day he stumbles into a bookstore and accidentally (really! It was an accident!) steals a strange, perpetually-changing book of fairy tales.  Then his mom signs him up for a Big Brother-not only is he WAY too old for one, his Big Brother is gay.  Now, he likes Walter and all that, but he’s so afraid of what the bullies at school will do to him if they find out he reads fairy tales and is hanging out with a gay Big Brother.

If that wasn’t bad enough, a storm damages his school and the district makes plans to close it permanently and move all the students to other schools.  Then it would become just one more decrepit, abandoned building out of hundreds in their neighborhood.  But Augie’s tired of it-he doesn’t want to leave school and start over.  The bullies were just starting to leave him alone, and the school choir was sounding great and making everyone feel like a community.   What can be done?  He’s just a kid, but in this thoughtful debut novel, he demonstrates the power of working together.

This is a special book, friends, one with many layers and lots of things to think about after you’ve finished.  Augie’s story is interspersed with fairy tale chapters from the accidentally-stolen book, and many of his life experiences parallel those in the fairy tale.  As he reads, he begins to think about how fair is it really for him to be afraid to be seen with Walter, just because Walter is gay.  Augie feels differently, now-he sees how damaging the prejudices of others can be.  At the same time, he develops his own voice-he’s no longer the scared young man running from bullies.  Instead, Augie pulls together a plan to save his school, speaking up to the school board, and working together with the students who used to bully him.  And Walter?  Well, he likes having Walter around.  You see, things are different now.

Part fairy tale, part school drama, part coming-of-age story, this novel is one of the rare young adult stories to appeal equally to guys and girls.  I love Bauer’s treatment of Walter and his partner, and the natural way Augie’s feelings about it grew and changed.  This is one of the ALA’s Rainbow List books, specially recognized for its excellent treatment of GLBT subject matter.

Happy Reading!

Bauer, A.C.E. No Castles Here. New York: Random House, 2007. 270 pp.  Ages 11 and up.

If you liked this one, you’ll love these:

Boy 21 (one of my favorites!)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Time for Andrew

Hero (this book is seriously double-awesome, so even if it isn’t strictly related to No Castles Here, I still think you’ll love it!)

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Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco

beholding bee“The way I got the diamond on my face happened like this.

I was sleeping in the back of our hauling truck one night after Pauline shut down our hot dog cart and Ellis closed the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel, and then, after every one of the stars had blinked out for the night so no one could see, that is when an angel came and kissed me on the cheek.

That is the way Pauline sees it.

Other folks say different things, like ‘What a shame, what a shame.'”

Bee tries to hide the birthmark on her face from the customers that come to her hot dog cart at the carnival.  But sometimes, they say cruel things or tease her, and it hurts her feelings.  It’s not all bad: she has her little dog, and Cordelia, the pig; and there’s Pauline, the young woman who found her-the closest thing she has to a mother.

Bee spends her time looking for the home she dreams of, a nice place for her and Pauline.  And she’s learning to run, too, which helps when she is feeling sad.  No matter how difficult her circumstances are, Bee tries to remain hopeful. She knows it will be better someday.

When Pauline unexpectedly leaves, Bee takes refuge with her mysterious “aunts”, Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter.  There’s something a bit strange about them, though: no one else seems to be able to see them.  They make a cozy, if unusual, family, and Bee settles down.  She even is able to begin school for the first time! However, it’s not as easy as she was hoping.

 This gentle novel explores friendship, beauty, and bullying, against the interesting backdrop of World War II.   The character development is natural and thorough, and the historical details are fascinating.  This book would be great in a classroom, and presents an interesting perspective on wartime combined with a story laced with meaning.  It’s also a good way to open a dialogue on differences and bullying.  I loved it, even though it made me cry about every other page!  I think you’ll love it, too.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website

Fusco, Kimberly Newton. Beholding Bee.  Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 2013. 327 pp.  Ages 11-14.

If you liked this book (and I think you will!) try these:

Sorta Like a Rockstar

The One and Only Ivan

The Magician’s Elephant

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I do not often come walking, boy, the monster said, only for matters of life and death. I expect to be listened to.

The monster loosened its grip, and Conor could breathe again. ‘So what do you want with me?’ Conor asked.

The monster gave an evil grin. The wind died down and a quiet fell. At last, said the monster. To the matter at hand. The reason I have come walking.

Conor tensed, suddenly dreading what was coming.

Here is what will happen, Conor O’Malley, the monster continued, I will come to you again on further nights.

Conor felt his stomach clench, like he was preparing for a blow.

And I will tell you three stories.  Three tales from when I walked before.

At 12:07 every night since Conor’s mother took a turn for the worse, the monster comes to visit.  Looking like an enormous yew tree, and leaving trails of spiky leaves on Conor’s bedroom floor, he demands something of the young man.  In trade for three of his stories, Conor must tell his own.

But he cannot do it.  Even though the ancient monster is terrifying, full of magic older than time, even though Conor is not even sure he has a choice, he is too afraid.  He is more frightened of revealing his own nightmare than of anything the monster could do.  However, when he begins to believe that telling the truth will somehow heal his mother, from the cancer ravaging her body, he musters up the courage to share the truth of his worst nightmare with the monster.

Just like The Book of Lost Things, this is a story about sickness, the isolating nature of grief and fear, and the place of stories in our lives.  The book was inspired by an idea from the award-winning author, Siobhan Dowd, who passed away before the story could be written.  Patrick Ness, the author of The Knife of Never Letting Go picked up her torch and, with illustrator Jim Kay, created a book that you won’t soon forget.  The story is messy, in much the same way that life is.  Sometimes, our loved ones do not heal, despite the hope we have.  We make harmful choices.  Our friends betray us, and we do the same to them.  However, that is the appeal of the story:  I loved this book not only for its haunting illustrations, but also for its honesty.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.patrickness.com

Ness, Patrick. A Monster Calls. Candlewick: Somerville, 2011. 205 pp. Ages 12 and up.

If you are a younger reader and trying to find books about loved ones with serious illnesses, Notes from the Dog is a good place to start.  If you are older, you might want to try The Fault in Our Stars.  If the story-telling part was what you loved about this book (and you’re a younger reader) The Neverending Story is a classic book about the importance of stories.  If you’re older, and some gruesome bits do not upset you, The Book of Lost Things is my very, very favorite.

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

“‘The elephant,’ said the fortuneteller.

‘What?’ Peter said.  He opened his eyes, certain that he had misunderstood.

‘You must follow the elephant,’ said the fortuneteller. ‘She will lead you there.’

Peter’s heart, which had risen up high inside of him, now sank slowly back to its normal resting place.  He put his hat on his head.  ‘You are having fun with me,’ he said.  ‘There are no elephants here.’

‘Just as you say,’ said the fortuneteller.

‘That is surely the truth, at least for now. But perhaps you have not noticed: the truth is forever changing.’

Before the coldest of the grayest winters the city has ever seen, Peter approaches the mysterious fortuneteller with trepidation.  He knows he is an orphan, but…but he remembers a baby crying, a sister.  Is she still alive, he wants to know?  If she is, how can he find her?

The fortuneteller’s answer seems unbelievable: where would Peter find an elephant, anyway? However, with the scrap of hope and a fortuneteller’s cryptic message, Peter embarks on an adventure that will not only change an entire city, but also bring him the family he longs for.

I was a terrifically anxious child. We’re talking escaping-from-kindergarten-on-foot-to-avoid-standardized-testing, elaborate-separation-rituals-including-begging-and-possibly-vomiting, germ-phobic-before-hand-sanitizer-was-a-thing kind of nervous.  It wasn’t pretty, friends, and the calmest moments of my childhood were when my parents or teachers read out loud to me.  For that reason, I am on a perpetual quest for The Perfect Sharing Read-Alouds: those books that are interesting to both adults and little ones, with the stories full of things to prepare you to face the world. Since they are bedtime books, a soothing quality is important.  Funny is definitely a plus.  Illustrations? Absolutely.

I’m pleased to tell you that The Magician’s Elephant is possibly one of the most perfect books for sharing.  A fortuneteller whose tent appears one day and is gone the next? A long-lost sister? An orphanage whose door is always guarded by a nun, waiting to welcome all that are lost? A magician who has just accomplished the most stunning bit of magic of his life?  A bewildered elephant?! Yes, oh yes.  And while the plot elements and characters are creative and wonderful in themselves, the illustrations and tone combine to form a story about love and families and bravery that will break your heart, it’s so pretty.

The author, Kate DiCamillo, says this about her book: “I wanted. I needed. I longed to tell a story of love and magic.  Peter, Adele, the magician, the elephant-all the characters in this book are the result of that longing.  I hope that you, the reader, find some love and magic here.” I did! I think you will, too.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.katedicamillo.com

DiCamillo, Kate. The Magician’s Elephant. Candlewick: Somerville, 2009. 201 pp. Ages 8 and up.

Would you like to know what other books are on my Sharing List?

The Hobbit

Toys Go Out

The Neverending Story

The Adventures of Hugo Cabret 

The Chronicles of Narnia

The Phantom Tollbooth

I’d love to hear your suggestions!  What books are you sharing?

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

“The TV says the governor has asked the president to declare a state of emergency.  The National Guard has been called up.  Now the breathless weatherman is saying the hurricane will hit Mississippi and Louisiana. Both.

I’m feeling ANXIOUS: FULL OF ANXIETY. GREATLY CONCERNED, ESPECIALLY ABOUT SOMETHING IN THE FUTURE OR UNKNOWN.

I’m feeling more anxious because I looked up unfathomable in my pocket dictionary.  UNFATHOMABLE: BEYOND UNDERSTANDING, IMPOSSIBLE TO MEASURE.

In math, I learned everything can be measured.  Air, water, wind. Volume. Velocity. Depth.

So why not a hurricane? There, I’ve said it.”

Lanesha lives with her adoptive grandmother, Mama Ya-Ya, in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward.  The pair may not be blood relatives, but are closer than any family-they are all each other has in the world.  Lanesha and Mama Ya-Ya also share powers: Lanesha can see ghosts, and Mama Ya-Ya gets visions about the future.   When Mama Ya-Ya’s dream visions predict a hurricane, Lanesha tries hard to prepare for the coming storm.  She’s nervous, though; Mama Ya-Ya can’t fully understand the end of her visions about the storm, and the news anchors say it will be the worst they’ve had in decades.  When Hurricane Katrina finally hits the city, Lanesha has to be brave in order to protect everything that she loves.

I’d been wanting to read this book for so long, and it was even better than I expected!  Jewell Parker Rhodes’ depiction of the love inherent in Lanesha’s assembled family is so tender.  Mama Ya-Ya, Lanesha, and later, a stray dog and TaShon, Lanesha’s first real friend, are warmly devoted to each other, despite the stresses of their lives. Lanesha herself is a brilliant young woman; she’s compassionate, inquisitive, and wants to grow up to become an engineer.  I especially loved her passion for science and mathematics; she’s advanced enough that a teacher of hers gives her the teacher’s edition of a pre-algebra textbook for her to work through independently. It’s great to see a female character excelling in math, especially when presented in such a natural way.  Way to defy a stereotype!

And really, that is what this book is about-we all were exposed to so much press about the violence and poverty in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina that an untrue and unfair depiction of the city’s poor developed.  Jewell Parker Rhodes gently dismantles this image.  For example, Lanesha has the ability to see ghosts. (Don’t worry, this isn’t a ghost story, and the ghosts are benign or helpful, so younger readers are still good to go with this story.)  At school, she sees the ghost of an older classmate, one who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time during a gas station robbery-a subtle reminder that assuming all shooting deaths are gang-related, and that poor people are violent is just that, an assumption, and not true.  The inhabitants of Lanesha’s poverty-stricken neighborhood are humanized in this story; they look after each other and share their few resources.  This Ninth Ward isn’t ridden with senseless violence, neither before, nor after the hurricane.

The magical realism in this story (Mama Ya-Ya’s visions and Lanesha’s ghosts) is seamlessly integrated with the actual events of the hurricane, and it gave it another layer of appeal.  It also kept the book from being just a recounting of the storm.  I loved how it was used to connect Lanesha with her mother, who died in childbirth. This is just a lovely book, on so many levels.  Not only does it give some good perspective on the hurricane’s devastation, appropriate for a younger audience, it also demonstrates the legitimacy of non-traditional families and deconstructs stereotypes about young women and poor minorities. Rhodes tells us a story about the strength of love, even amidst destruction, and it is absolutely beautiful!

Happy Reading!

Rhodes, Jewell Parker.  Ninth Ward. Little, Brown: New York, 2010. 217 pp. Ages 10-14.

Author’s website: http://jewellparkerrhodes.com

Normally, when I’m reading, recommendations just come to me and I feel what books would be similar.  However, I don’t know of others so much like this, though I wish I did, and I’m getting ready to explore.  Zora and Me, is a wonderful one that I have read, a former winner of the  Coretta Scott King award.  It has the same feel of warmth and family-love, but it is set in the deep south during the Jim Crow era, so it is more historical.  We could also try Turtle in Paradise or Three Times Lucky.

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

“‘What do you have, then?’ I asked.

‘Oh, spindles and straw and beans and tears.  A glass coffin. A golden egg.  A number of things.  The Grimms were serious and thorough collectors, and of course we’ve added to the collection a great deal over the years, objects associated with other fairy tale and folklore traditions.  I’m especially proud of our French holdings-we have the best collection outside the Archives Extraordinaires in Paris.'”

Elizabeth has a new job as a page at the New York Circulating Materials Repository.  It may sounds stuffy, but it is far from it! The Repository is a very special lending library for objects of all kinds, including magical ones collected by the Brothers Grimm.  Patrons can visit and borrow anything from chess sets and egg cups to magical table settings that offer never-ending food and the slippers of the Twelve Dancing Princesses (though, I don’t know why they’d be useful, as the soles are all worn through).   For the most part, Elizabeth’s  job is straightforward-she puts items in their proper places and helps patrons find what they need.  However, when a coworker begins acting suspiciously, and magical objects are being replaced with clever fakes, Elizabeth decides to act, in order to protect the collection.  She’s not sure whom she can trust, but she knows she has to do something to solve the mystery and prevent the Grimm treasures from being lost forever.

I’ll admit it-I’m terribly jealous of Elizabeth’s job! Not only does she get to do things like speaking to the magic mirror of Snow White, she even earns borrowing privileges for the Grimm Collection.  Wouldn’t you love to take home a mermaid comb or try out some seven-league boots?  The descriptions of the magical objects were the best part of this book; I even learned about fairy tales I’d never heard of before (the Spirit in the Bottle, anyone?).  The library sounds like my idea of paradise; there’s even a special science fiction object collection, and a magical indoor forest.  The plot is original, and the details won’t disappoint you.

I waited a long time to review it, though; there were just a few things that concerned me about this otherwise lovely book.  First, a positive: there is a very diverse cast of characters in this text.  Elizabeth’s friend Marc is black, and her other friend, Anjali, is Indian.  While I dearly, passionately love to see racial diversity in young adult literature, there was something about the way the characters were presented that made me feel uncomfortable.  On the one hand, it was refreshing to see a cast of characters that wasn’t all white.  On the other hand, the repeated mentions to characters’ races made the text seem as though it was too conscious of its own diversity-at times, I felt like I was unable to focus on the story, or see the characters as having other qualities outside of their ethnicity.  Sometimes, the text seemed to be exoticizing Marc and Anjali; Marc turns out to be an African prince, while Anjali is an Indian princess, and there is a lot of focus on the maxims of Marc’s tribe, for example, and Anjali’s exotic beauty.  When a story presents “outsiders”, or characters from another culture, but does so in a way that draws a lot of attention to the differentness of those characters, it can be patronizing.   Furthermore, I felt that Marc’s characterization was stereotypical; he was a basketball star, which isn’t negative in itself, but I would like to see authors presenting us with images of young black men involved in other activities besides sports.

With that said, I do not think this is an intentionally prejudiced book.  I only wanted to draw attention to the way race was treated in the story.  When you’re reading, you can start thinking about how minority characters are described: are the characters well-rounded, rather than being flat or reduced only to their race?  Do descriptions of the character seem to align with common stereotypes, or is he or she treated as an individual?  The way race, gender, and any other identity categories are presented in the media can contribute to stereotypes, and that’s why I felt I had to bring it up.  If every African American character we read about is a basketball player, it limits our perceptions of them -what about African American chemists?    Is it awesome that Shulman had such diverse characters?  Absolutely!  However, if we are moving to an ultimate goal of eradicating prejudice, it would have been more effective to have a diverse cast without dwelling on their respective differences and how exotic and interesting they are because of their ethnicity.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:pollyshulman.com

Shulman, Polly. The Grimm Legacy. Puffin: New York, 2010. 325 pp.  Ages 11-15

This is a creative story with skillful fairy tale references and creative details.  If you’d like more on fairy tales, try A Tale Dark and Grimm.  You could also try any of the books by these authors: Eva Ibbotson, Shannon Hale, and Gail Carson Levine! Here’s a nice list of good books in the genre from Goodreads, too.  This is one of my favorite genres and I’m always hunting for more like this, so I’ll keep you posted!

Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King

Image“I try to keep my mouth shut because the ants are telling me: Stay safe, Lucky Linderman.  Keep your mouth shut. But I talk anyway.  ‘My mother is a squid, so we have to come here because Dave and Jodi have a pool, and my mother has to swim several hours a day or else, as a squid, she will die.  My father has to stay in Pennsylvania because he is a turtle and can’t face anything other than boneless chicken breasts and organic vegetables.

My ninja is smiling at me. ‘You mom is a squid?’

‘Psychologically, yes.’

‘And your dad is a turtle.’

‘Right.’

‘What does that make you?’ she asks.

‘I don’t know yet.’

Lucky Linderman has masterminded a survival plan: Operation Don’t Smile Ever.  It started after his survey project, in which he asked his classmates how they would kill themselves if they could.  The thing is, everyone freaked out and now the school officials think he’s “troubled”.  Combined with a dad who is always working at his restaurant, a mom who would rather swim than engage with humans, and Nader’s incessant bullying, Lucky’s not so sure he has much to smile about anyway.  Oh, and the ants: he also sees an ever-present line of ants who like to comment on everything he does.  As if a squid mom and turtle dad aren’t weird enough.

And that’s without the nightmares.  See, his grandfather is a POW/MIA, a prisoner of war, missing in action.  He went to Vietnam and even his body didn’t come back.  Lucky’s grandma died while pleading for Lucky to find out what happened to him.  But Lucky kind of knows already.  See, he has dreams of Harry, his grandfather.  They’re nightmares, really.  They make traps together, talk about life, and even play Twister.  And from each dream, Lucky carries a memento into real life: a banana sticker, a black headband.  He feels like the dreams have a purpose; he will stop having them when they find his grandfather.

This is a very special book, one that doesn’t ignore the horrific realities of war and the agony of bullying, the feelings of worthlessness and despair that accompany adolescence, or the frustration inherent in being a member of a dysfunctional family unit.  There is no minimization of trauma here, but King shows us a way around the challenges.   Lucky’s story champions the subtle bravery of not throwing in the towel.  It is a novel about what it means to grow up.

We are in the hands of a master storyteller, friends.  We’ve all read books on bullying, on war, on dysfunctional families.  But, I ask you, how many of those books had a line of ants, or dreams that might be real, or a Vagina Monologues ninja in them?  And it’s not just these delightful creative elements that will grab you and suck you in, either.  It is Lucky’s natural voice.  While you’re reading this book, it’s like sitting inside his head.  You’ll look around and say, “Hey! I know this place!” And after you finish this book, I hope you see the ants, too. I hope they’re cheering for you.

A. S. King won the Printz Honor for Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and this book has already gotten starred reviews and the attention of the American Library Association-all for good reason.  I especially love that this book will appeal to reluctant readers (although I do so hate that phrase, because it assumes that people don’t want to read.  No, they just haven’t found the right books yet, I say).  So here, readers-who-might-be-having-a-bit-of-trouble-liking-reading:  this one’s gonna blow your mind.

Happy reading!

Author’s website: http://www.as-king.com

King, A. S. Everybody Sees the Ants. New York: Little, Brown, 2011. 279 pp.  Ages 14 and up.

If you liked this book, I think you’ll love A. S. King’s earlier book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Also, you might want to check out Matthew Quick’s Sorta Like A Rock Star and Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going.  They aren’t so much about war or bullying, but they have the same feeling to them.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

“I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.  The first of these came as a terrible shock, and like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After.  Like many of the extraordinary things to come, it involved my grandfather, Abraham Portman.”

When Jacob was young, his grandfather told him many stories: stories of how he was chased by monsters out of Poland, how he took shelter on an island, at a home for children, in a place full of gardens and streams and sheep and safety. The children at the shelter had unusual skills: a levitating girl, an invisible boy, a young woman who could control fire.  Abe even had a box of photographs from those days. Jacob had seen them so many times, that he felt as if he knew them personally. Eventually, he grew too old for his grandfather’s stories,  and stopped believing.
When his grandfather is killed one night, and dies raving about monsters and begging Jacob to carry a cryptic message for him, Jacob is shattered.  Attempting to fulfill his grandfather’s final wishes leads him to a tiny island off the coast of England, where he finally finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. And something horrifying, called wights, and their further horrifying counterparts, hollowgasts.  If you know anything about the myth of the wendigo , they will sound familiar to you.  Either way, Jacob grandfather was fully justified in his terror of the creatures.
The best part of this story is the creative format. Ransom Riggs integrates eerie old photographs into this story seamlessly.  You’ll be reading along about a character, and then turn the page, and there it is: a crying boy in a bunny costume, beautifully dressed twin girls who are ominously faced away from the camera,  a young boy with a monocle. The best part is that they are absolutely real photos, which makes them even creepier. They contribute to the melancholy, supernatural tone of the story.
After reading some reviews, I found that some people didn’t necessarily know how to respond to the between-genre feel of this book.  Is it written for adults? Is it YA lit? Is it science fiction? Light horror?  Personally, I think it is a little of all of the above, and I really like that.  The genre-crossing gives it a very unique feeling.  I loved the atmosphere of this book.  It feels like part X-men, part science fiction, part ghost story, part graphic novel (because of the photographs), and part war story.  It made me very happy for 24 hours!
If this one sounds good, you might like these, too:
Happy Reading!
Author’s website: http://www.ransomriggs.com (He says a sequel is coming!)
Riggs, Ransom. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Quirk Books: Philadelphia, 2011. 348 pp.  Ages 14 and up.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

“Because with Charlie, nothing was ever easy. Everything was windswept and octagonal and finger-combed.  Everything was difficult and odd, and the theme songs all had minor chords.”

Vera’s former best friend Charlie is dead.  It’s hard enough when your best friend dies, she thinks, but when he stabs you in the back and then dies, it makes things infinitely worse.  Worse still, when he comes back to haunt you, with his ghostly form showing up in the car when you’re kissing another guy, or in the bathroom at school, it is the absolute pits.

Vera is eighteen, living with her father (you will love him, I think.  He’s pretty much the Best. Dad. Ever!), an accountant and recovering alcoholic who invests his whole heart in making sure she has the best future possible.  She works full time at a pizza place, and spends the rest of her time drinking to forget Charlie and the secret she is determined not to tell.  Of course, it’s not as easy as all that-Charlie’s ghost keeps showing up at inopportune times, a silent, shaming reminder urging Vera to tell what she knows and clear his name.

The best part of this book?  The format!  See, the story is told in a creative way-all first person, addressed right to you, and by different speakers.  I think readers will love Ken Dietz, Vera’s dad.  He chimes in during the story, in chapters titled things like “A Brief Word from Ken Dietz (Vera’s Frustrated Dad)” and with flow charts, like “Ken Dietz’s Face Your Shit Flow Chart”.  I kid you not, I actually made a copy of that flowchart and pasted it up on my bulletin board.  And besides Ken and Vera (and even Charlie, who pipes up every few chapters), there is the Pagoda.  That’s right, a building.  The Pagoda is a park building with special significance to Ken and his ex-wife (she left them when Vera was 12), and it gets a few chapters of its own. Trust me, the Pagoda is hilarious-I think it’s the best and funniest part of the novel.

This book combines creative elements (a haunting, a mystery, a talking Pagoda) with a great format (many voices, FLOW CHARTS!), and very common social problems of young people.  I think you’re going to love it! (And others did, too-this is a Printz Honor book, and a nominee for the Edgar Allen Poe mystery award!)

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.as-king.com/ (The website is really funny-the giant header describes her as “a corn lover” and “wearer of magical writing pants”. Awesome!)

All right, folks, since I’m in library school now, I think I’ll change the way I give the book information.  If you hate it, please let me know, and I’ll change it back!

ISBN 9780375865862
0375865861
Personal Author King, A. S.1970-
Title Please ignore Vera Dietz /A.S. King.
Edition 1st ed.
Publication info New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2010.
Physical descrip 326 p. ; 22 cm.

Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

“Weetzie and My Secret Agent Lover Man and Dirk and Duck and Cherokee and Witch Baby huddled on the pink bed and cried. Grief is not something you know if you grow up wearing feathers with a Charlie Chaplin boyfriend, a love-child papoose, a witch baby, a Dirk and a Duck, a Slinskter Dog, and a movie to dance in.”

Weetzie Bat is a sparkly, quirky, delight-of-a-character. She wears improbable combinations of old prom dresses, feathered headdresses, and sugary make-up, and spends all her time appreciating her world, Shangri-L.A. (It’s sort of like the 80’s club scene with a little 50’s Hollywood influence).  She and Dirk, her gay best friend, spend their days eating Oki-dogs, the “wildest, cheapest cheese and bean and hotdog and pastrami burritos”, cruising the beautiful city in his vintage Pontiac, looking at the ocean, and recharging at Dirk’s grandma’s colorful house of love.

When a genie appears and grants Weetzie three wishes, she wishes for loves for her and Dirk, a house for them to live in together, and a happily ever after.  This is the fantastic story of the wishes coming true! (But I value you and your skepticism, friends, so please don’t think that “happily ever after” is presented here as “there-is-no-suffering”.  I don’t buy that, and neither would you.  That said, it’s still a happy book). Also in the book, there is a baby, and then a Witch Baby, a death, some panicking, and a triumph. I like how it’s not too easy to predict the flow of the story, but that it doesn’t seem strained, either.  Nice!

Do you remember Girl Goddess #9?  Yes, the really good collection of short stories I reviewed not too long ago-the one that made me want to read everything else the author wrote?  Well, this is the book that started Francesca Lia Block’s storytelling career, and it’s really lovely. In the tradition of Stargirl and Sorta Like A Rock Star, Weetzie Bat shimmers with individuality and sincerity and I know you are going to love her!

This is a very short book, but full of heavy topics (AIDS, suicide, drinking) as well as fun things like magic (really-there’s a genie!), love, old movies, palm trees, and hot dogs!  ALA picked it right up and awarded it the Quick Pick and the Best Book honors, so you can’t really go wrong there.  Better still, if you love it, there are more: Goat Girls and Beautiful Boys, so you can look them up right after you finish!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website: http://www.francescaliablock.com/

Block, Francesca Lia. Weetzie Bat. New York: HarperCollins, 1989. 109 pp. Ages 14 and up.