Shelf Sitters that Shouldn’t

Rats Saw God (Rob Thomas, not that Rob Thomas): Actually I could include all Rob Thomas books. You know I enjoy Veronica Mars, although I preferred Season 1 to the sophomore season; there was not nearly enough screen time of Logan and V. together, I have never liked Duncan, and why did Wallace disappear for half a season???? Of course several things about the finale rescued it: Mac, Weevil’s arrest (Whaa???? In the middle of graduation???? Truly?), and an Aaron Echolls death, but the plane blowing up? – it was a stretch; Beaver? – saw that coming 3 weeks prior. So why am I writing about VM in what is supposed to be a book list? Because I like VM but I wish Thomas would return to books. I miss looking forward to his next book, and I thought his last was the weakest. People seem to generally feel that Rats is the best, and I should probably re-read it, so I can do it justice in recommending it. I just feel in general people should read his books more.

Dangerous Angels (Francesca Lia Block) – More people should read her too. She is a Margaret Edwards award winner – lifetime achievement thingy – but don’t let that scare you off. MAE winners have been pretty cool cats. I find it hard to market the Weetzie Bat books, and gushing about how much I love something generally doesn’t work (which make the King Dork entry a risk but blogs are for gushing.) :::gush:::: :::::gush:::::.

I love Weetzie, I love the language, the description, the semi- magical realism, etc. Love Weetzie ::::gush:::: Ok get it? Read at least one, they are short. Perhaps begging will help?

Life is Funny (E.R. Frank) – Oh more gushing. I love the multiple narrators, the voice for everyone, and the time span of character growth. It is funny, charming, tragic, melancholy, all of it. Another book I think if I could find the right reader would get great word of mouth.

Make Lemonade (Virginia Euwer Wolff) – It occurs to me I could say the same thing over and over. In this case the format stands out. One of the first novels-in-verse I read, and still the best. Unfortunately I think that scares readers, or more accurately turns them off. It shouldn’t. This book rocks!

The Watcher (James Howe) – This is one of the few that you won’t find a few hundred other teen library types gushing about as well. Shame, I think. James Howe is a fine writer, which we know from other stuff, but this is my favorite, and one written for older kids. In particular I like how the fairy tale is interwoven with the story so that it is an allegory within the novel. I suppose the knock could be that it is a “problem” novel with too pat an ending, but I disagree. While there is some relief in the end, not really the future still is muddy on several fronts and this goes beyond a simple formula.

The boyfriend list (e. lockhart) – There is a much longer subtitle on this book. I think I have just mis-shelved this and that is why is sits because it has a very typical chick lit sort of cover. I should put it in the “pink books”. The thing about this book that I love is that it is not what is expected. I expected your typical teen chick lit (my fave, I admit it.) but what I got was a book that really pissed me off – her friends suck! I mean really. They were righteous bullies! I hated their actions. And I completely sympathized with the narrator. I guess it really just punched my buttons.

Aimee (Mary Beth Miller) – This isn't a great book in terms of literary quality and all that stuff, but I still really enjoyed it and wish it moved more. Zoë was present the night her friend Aimee dies, and there is some question of how responsible she was/is for Aimee’s death. I think this walks the Lorene McDaniel edge, and others have complained about the voice being “too adult” but I really liked it.

Born Blue (Han Nolan) – The last few books say a lot about my preferences because I have a thing for the angsty teen novel. I am not a fan of formulaic problems novels but I do enjoy good teen angst and Han Nolan is an amazing writer. I loved Dancing on the Edge but this is my favorite and probably the most accessible. As a foster child Janie/Leshaya knows something about the blues. Often you want to shake this girl who sabotages herself again and again but there is also something true about her.

Uglies (Scott Westerfeld) – I could almost move this off the shelf-sitters list because it is beginning to get some play. In Tally’s world everyone gets plastic surgery at a certain age so they can be beautiful, and after that all they do is party. And like most Utopias while at first blush it sounds fabulous, there is more to it than initially meets the eye. It is a fun universe that Westerfeld creates, and the plot has enough action to keep it moving along.

Oh I am sure there are more – maybe I’ll do a Shelf Sitters Part 2 someday.


My Summer Reads

So I’ve been very busy compiling lists for potential summer reading for other people but I figure I should put a list together for myself. I do this all the time, but I never hold to it. I get distracted by new books, or run out of time, or can’t take hardbacks backpacking (way too much weight climbing out of the Middle Fork of the Feather River if I carry down hardbacks.) So here is my potential summer reading list:

As Simple as Snow (Gregory Galloway): Honestly I know nothing of this but it won an Alex award so on the list it goes.

A Certain Slant of Light (Laura Whitcomb): People on AdBooks had a lot to say about this title so I figure I should read it too.

Burned (Ellen Hopkins): Crank surprised me with how much I liked it so I have to try Burned. However it has received some criticism on YALSA-Bk so it maybe a read-on- the-floor-at-Borders type read.

Crunch Time (Mariah Fredericks): This book appeals to me, the idea of pressure and cheating doesn’t get a ton of play in YA – except maybe in Catalyst (Laurie Halse Anderson), or some other here and there type books and yet I think it is very relevant to teens.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close ( Jonathan Safran Foer) : Not only has someone recommended this – they put a copy in my hand. You can’t just ignore that and expect them to read (and watch) all that you suggest.

Midnighters 2 & 3 (Scott Westerfeld) _ Sad that it has taken my this much time to get to 2, much less 3 but at least now I can read them back to back. One of the problems I have if I start a series, and then have to wait is that I lose interest. I know, I know I am fickle, fickle, fickle.

Grand and Humble (Brent Hartinger): Supposedly there is a big secret. I promise not to give it away.

Hummingbird’s Daughter (Luis Alberto Urrea): I saw this in a book store in Mexico and wanted to read it. But I couldn’t bring myself to pay $25 for a paperback, much less one I knew nothing about. So I waited until I got home, found out it was only in hardback in the US and merely added it to my To Be Read wish list on Amazon.

The Notebook Girls (Julia Baskin, Sophie Pollitt-Cohen, Lindsey Newman, and Courtney Toombs : Someone I trust told me she was loving this book so with some trepidation I add it to my summer reading list. I hated Please Don’t Kill the Freshman, didn’t get past the first 20 pages – too snarkily realistic for me – but this one is supposedly better.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan) – This has gotten such good buzz that I am bookstore bound as soon as it hits the shelves (tonight I think 5/23 or tomorrow).

Specials (Scott Westerfeld) – Third in the Uglies, Pretties trilogy or whatever the trilogy name is. Plenty of adventure, something to think about, etc.

The Queen of Cool (Cecil Castellucci) – I liked Boy Proof, but wasn’t blown away by it but the description of this book, and lets face it, the cover appeal to me.

The World is Flat (Thomas L. Friedman): This is pop culture professional reading. People keep referring to it so I feel obligated to at least check it out.

Upstate (Kalisha Buckhanon): Another ALEX award winner that appealed to me.

Tithe (Holly Black): I read the second one, Valiant, which surprised me by how much I liked it. I am not really all that into urban fairies. But since I liked Valiant I plan on giving Tithe a go.

Between Mom and Jo (Julie Ann Peters): Peters is a quality writer. This is a custody story of a kid caught between two moms and I’d like to see how she handles it.

The Road of the Dead (Kevin Brooks) – I have mixed reviews of this author, but this title appeals to me.

King Dork – Frank Portman

As a rule I don’t like “buzz books”, it is a matter of principal. I read them and I am disappointed because they don’t live up to the hype. Or I have already read them and I think there is something better out there and I wish that was getting more attention. For instance – why is everybody so thrilled with The Da Vinci Code? I didn’t find the notion of Jesus and Mary Magdalene having a child all that earth shattering, I heard it before. (The Last Temptation of Christ maybe? I don’t know . . .somewhere.) And I knew a third of the way through that the chick was the descendent for crimeny’s sake. It wasn’t that difficult to figure out. And The Lovely Bones – please if I was brutally raped and murdered the first thing I’d do if I came back to Earth (?!?) would be to have sex, not to mention all those badly over written metaphors. Oh – Harry Potter, read the first one about 6 months before the hype hit. The Golden Compass, sooo much better. And Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? I like it just fine – but why is this the ONLY book girls know about? Well besides Gossip Girls and A List.

Ok all this ranting is to say that: King Dork – lives up to the buzz.

Any teen book that shows up in Entertainment Weekly (which I love don’t get me wrong) is going to make me a little dubious. but once again:

King Dork – lives up to the buzz.
I have so many sticky notes in this thing that everyone has to ask me what it is about – funny you should ask. Its about:

half a dozen mysteries, plus dead people, naked people, fake people, teen sex, weird sex, drugs, ESP, Satanism, books, blood, Bubblegum, guitars, monks, faith, love, witchcraft, the Bible, girls, a war, a secret code, a head injury, the Crusades, some crimes, mispronunciation skills, a mystery woman, a devil-head, a blow job, and rock and roll. Its about the monotony of standard, generic high school, which somehow manages to be horrifying and tedious at the same time. See brilliant huh?
And guaranteed to be challenged based on the second paragraph alone.
It took me a while to read this, but mostly because I was enjoying it, and when I read I wanted to give full attention – I didn’t want to think about work, or life or anything else. Of course he had me with the Catcher cult because, and I don’t often admit this, I do no get the appeal of The Catcher in the Rye. I have tried 5 times to read the book, and :::gasp::: I have never finished the thing, I hate Holden Caufield. I know, I know it is English teacher, librarian heresy but it is true and I think I can come out of the closet on this one now.
They live for making you read it. When you do read it you can feel them all standing behind you in a semicircle wearing black robes with hoods, holding candles. They’re chanting “Holden, Holden, Holden . . .” And they’re looking over your shoulder with these expectant smiles, wishing they were the ones discovering the earth-shattering joys of The Catcher in the Rye for the very first time.

See – the Catcher cult.
So now its done – I’ve finished, I can stop harassing people with Daily Dorkism via email – he should just go read the book anyways, although I’ll send a few more for good measure. And I hope if you read this book (Read this Book!, I’ll stand behind you in a black hooded robe with a candle and smile expectantly – well in spirit at least, or not) that you enjoy it, that you don’t think I’ve lost my mind and that I shouldn’t contribute to the buzz because it just turns out to be a buzz kill.

Popular Reads here at AHS

Twilight (Stephenie Meyer): The vampire book for kids who don’t like vampires. When I first realized I had to read this book I was a little frustrated – it is long. But it went so fast. The atmosphere is as much a part of the story as the plot, which is another Romeo and Juliet story, only this time Romeo is a vampire, and towards the end Juliet is in danger from a vampire who wants to hunt and kill her. Romeo’s name is Edward, and Juliet is Bella. For some reason never satisfactorily explained Bella smells good to Edward, which is much more romantic than it sounds – truly. It is the first in a trilogy so there are unanswered questions – but not so many you want to throw the book across the room when you are done. There is a first chapter on her website from Edward’s point of view rather than Bella’s.

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan (John Flanagan): Also on Reluctant Readers list. Like I said a bit of surprise, although I love the first line and enjoyed the story. Will wants to become a Knight, has built up an elaborate fantasy about his father, and unfortunately (he thinks) is instead apprenticed as a Ranger, a medieval CIA agent. It turns out he has quite the aptitude for being a Ranger. The sequel, The Burning Bridge, will be out the first of June.

The Jessica Darling trilogy: Sloppy Firsts, Second Helpings, and Charmed Thirds (Megan McCafferty): Once upon a time on a Geology field trip I, and two students, borrowed the van to go into Redding to get a copy of Second Helpings, which was not yet available in Humboldt County, a sad state of affairs we determined through multiple phone calls. This spring when Charmed Thirds came out my teacher’s aid pre-ordered it, rushed home to read it, and it was then passed around through various readers. Now while I thought Charmed Thirds was weak the first two are what I consider solid chick lit. All the people trashing Kaavya Viswanathan for plagiarizing from Megan, dismissed the Jessica Darling books as easy to plagiarize since all chick lit was “alike”. How is it possible to sneer while writing I will never know, but they managed. GRRRRRR!!!!!!!

All chick lit is not created equal, and Jessica Darling is funny and cynical, and a hopeless romantic. Plus she is beloved by AHS girls.

The Truth About Forever (Sarah Dessen): This has been the one Dessen title that has been easy to get people to read. I think it is all about the cover, although the This Lullaby cover appeals as well. Her newest is Just Listen, which I enjoyed. In Truth Macy is struggling to cope with her father’s death, and like most of Dessen’s heroines her crush on a completely inappropriate boy, which she may not even acknowledge as a crush. If I think about it that pretty much sums up her latest works, and it’s been a while so I can’t truly distinguish between the books. But I enjoy them. They don’t rock my world, but some teens can’t get enough.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brashears): The movie last summer (which had beautiful Greek scenery at times) put this over the top. The third book, Girls in Pants, came out and I was caught off guard by the number of requests when we returned to school. It always has held some popularity, interestingly enough with the Jess Darling, Sarah Dessen fans but this is probably the starting point.

Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky): I think this is the new Catcher in the Rye. (Oh god, you have to read King Dork!) It has been a long time since I read this book, but it stays perennially popular at AHS.

Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card): I haven’t read this either but we use Ender’s with Freshman sometimes, which always kicks off a run on the rest of Ender’s titles. I recommend it, always with the caveat that other kids like it but I haven’t actually read it.

A Child Called It (Dave Pelzer): Every time I buy a copy it gets lost or stolen. I think I’ve bought eight copies in the 6 years I’ve been here. It is well loved, and often requested. If you don’t already know it is the story of a young man abused at the hands of his mother in horrible ways.

The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold): Also incredibly popular. After she is brutally raped and murdered Susie spends her time in heaven looking down on the people she loves as they grieve, and move on from her loss. Ok the ending – I have a rant, but in this forum I’ll let you all make up your own mind. If you know me and want to ask I’ll be happy to share.

Sabriel (Garth Nix): This is a recent read for me but it has been a consistently popular read. Sabriel has to go into the Land of the Dead to rescue her necromancer father. Of course this is fantasy adventure so there is a strange, and malevolent talking cat, curses, bell ringing, and talking to the dead.

Eragon (Christopher Paolini): I haven’t actually read this either. I mentioned not being a fantasy reader, and that goes double for dragons. I did read the sequel(Eldest) and the “Barges, We don’t need no stinkin’ barges.” (No. 36 although it has been bastardized)Really punched a button or two about being derivative versus pop culture referential nods but no kid I know cares. They like the book, especially fantasy fans and those who are a bit reluctant.

Friday Night Lights (Bissinger): Football in Texas is so twisted. Really. And this book does nothing but confirm the whole twisted Texas football perception. (Movie: Butchered by Hollywood – I mean, seriously!  And whats with the Buzz Bissinger?!?)But I have a lot of boys who read and love this book. As a teacher there was some pretty appalling and fascinating stuff in this book.

Books on Reluctant Readers list that are also popular:

First Part Last

Son of the Mob

Series that are popular:

Gossip Girls

The A List (it is making a move on Gossip Girls)

Hits with Reluctant Readers

In general I find the non-fiction books with tons of pictures in an area of interest: sports, cars, music are the most popular, the easiest sell.  Examples would be: Inside Monster Garage, VX: 10 years of Vibe photography, Big Men Who Shook the, NBA, MX: The Way of the Motocrosser, etc.  but this list is more textually based and primarily fiction (well, almost all fiction 9 out of 10.)


  1. Alex Rider series (Anthony Horowitz):  I am cheating again because this is a series.  The first book is Stormbreaker and rumor has it s being made into a movie.  This is teenage James Bond, complete with fun toys, grave peril, and evil villains.  In general boys read this, and get hooked.  The endings are always cliffhangers so it becomes VERY important to get the next one as soon as possible.  (It turns out Alex has 9 lives, at least.)
  2. The Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan (John Flanagan):  This is a surprise.  It has a great opening line: “Morgarth, Lord on the Mountains of Rin and Night, looked out over his bleak, rain swept domain and, for perhaps the thousandth time, cursed.”  It is adventurous, with enough magic to keep the fantasy kids interested but not enough to turn off other readers.  It has a bullying situation, outcasts, victory of good over evil, danger, maybe even a touch, just a hint of romance.  It is pretty fun.
  3. Son of the Mob (Gordon Korman): Funny books are hard to come by because, well I think there are several reasons, including funny being subjective.  But this one is a funny Romeo and Juliet type story.  The son of a mob bigwig is in love with the daughter of the FBI agent trying to arrest the mobster.  They manage to go on a date, although talking on the phone to your girlfriend can be difficult when her father is tapping your phones.  There is a dead body in the trunk on the date among other date disasters but there is no seriousness to this book really.
  4. The Last Domino (Adam Meyer): Another surprise to me.  Although I am not sure why since Give a Boy a Gun and The Brimstone Journals, which are also school shooting books have been popular.  So this is a school-shooting book, you know – why it happens explorations.  I think the reason why I was caught off guard by the popularity with reluctant readers is that I am over school shooting books (there is another one coming out this year.)   This one’s final scene is fairly gruesome which may be some of the appeal, but the exploration of responsibility is an interesting one.
  5. Boy Kills Man (Matt Whyman):  The title pretty much explains the appeal of the book, but it is also a slim title with a cover of a boy with a huge angel wing tattoo, and a nine mm in the back of his jeans.  It is set in Columbia, and has a 12 year old assassin which is an almost guarantee to get someone’s attention.
  6. The First Part Last (Angela Johnson): This is also in my top ten.  It has a very genuine voice of a teen father (one of a very few with a teen father, the other I know is Hanging On To Max).  The structure of Then and Now can confuse some readers but adds to the characterization.
  7. Emako Blue (Brenda Woods): Books that start out with a funeral usually aren’t my cup of tea but I did enjoy this one, plus it is great for kids who like sad books.   In some ways it is a eulogy for Emako Blue, but it is also about healing.
  8. Only the Strong Survive (Larry Platt):  A biography of Allen Iverson.  Surprised me how much I loved this, it fascinated me.  And I am not an AI fan, although I am a basketball fan.  This is the only non-fiction but I point out that I left off the fabulous nonfiction, picture heavy books.
  9. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things (Carolyn Mackler): Another great first line – “Froggy Welsh the Fourth is trying to get up my shirt..”  Virginia has a lot of rules as a “fat girl”, although she probably isn’t fat.  This has a silver cover with pink lipstick mark, all the hallmarks of chick lit – which it is.  But there is some depth – beyond just the brand name, name-dropping glitz of the series fiction – Gossip Girls and A-List type stuff.  Virginia’s voice is funny and authentic, and if some of the characters are under-developed she makes up for it.
  10. Monster (Walter Dean Myers)- Also on my top ten.  The format is appealing, as is the story of a kid on trial for murder.  There is definitely some ambiguity as to the amount of his responsibility. This one has maintained interest since I’ve been here.

Top Ten

A teacher suggested I put a summer reading list together for adults on campus. This turned out to be a WAY bigger project than I think she envisioned because there are only so many days in the summer and there is so much to read. So I decided to put together lists. The first is my top ten. This is an evolving list, and I probably left off something I like better than what is on here, and I cheated a little here and there (hey, all Weetzie Bat books are in the Dangerous Angel book) but here it is:

Dangerous Angels (Francesca Lia Block): This is cheating because there are actually five novels in this book: Weetzie Bat, Baby Be- bop, Cherokee Bat and the Goat Boys, Witch Baby, and Missing Angel Juan. I suppose if you had to read one my favorite is Missing Angel Juan, but it helps to start with Weetzie Bat. Francesca Lia Block’s language and descriptions are what set this apart.

how i live now (Meg Rosoff): This is a fairly new discovery but it easily moved into the top ten. You have to love a book that describes a garden as “Disney on ecstatsy”. The plot isn’t something that I thought would appeal to me but it was secondary to the language of the story. Daisy has been sent to England to live with her cousins when a war breaks out, leaving Daisy and the cousins to fend for themselves. But this is also a romance, a story about family, and healing.

Tenderness (Robert Cormier): I rooted for the serial killer, and spent the entire book asking myself how on earth the author was going to get out the predicament he put himself in when he wrote a story about a serial killer, especially one the reader feels some sympathy for.

Chinese Handcuffs (Chris Crutcher): I struggled with which Crutcher to recommend. This is my favorite because I read it first but most people prefer Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes or Whale Talk. Ironman is probably his best, with the least amount of melodrama. In general I find people prefer the first one they read, and that after a while he can seem preachy with a too similar character voice. This, however, is heresy in certain YA circles. PS: He has the WORST, and I mean the WORST, covers EVER!

Life is Funny (E.R. Frank): This book of multiple narrators growing up sang in parts. The characters all had their challenges but I appreciated the humor, the voices, and that there was something for everyone. The author’s second book, America, was better received but I prefer this one.

Make Lemonade (Virginia Euwer Wolfe): This book can intimidate readers because it looks like poetry – free verse. Often I have people tell me they don’t read poetry, but it doesn’t read like poetry, it reads like poetic prose. This is one I keep meaning to go back and read because I enjoyed it so much.

The First Part Last (Angela Johnson): This one was what I call a triple crown winner: Printz winner, Coretta Scott King award, top ten Best Book for YA (I think Printz winners have to be????), and significantly a top ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, which is somewhat unusual. At AHS it is primarily reluctant moving into avid readers who read and love this book because of its size, but it really is a great book.

Monster (Walter Dean Myers): A book that plays with format; it is a journal, and a screen play and it takes advantage of the font and design. There are no easy answers for Steve, which works well with a teen audience I think. Also this has “classic” word of mouth, in that it has sustained in interest over the years.

The Golden Compass (Phillip Pullman): This is the one fantasy book I included, I am not a fantasy fan but I liked this story. Lyra’s world is parallel to ours and so while there are parts that are recognizable there is also warrior polar bears, daemons, and plenty of adventure. It is also a, hmmmm, reimagining I guess, of Paradise Lost.

Blankets (Craig Thompson): A graphic novel. I am also not a fan of the graphic novel but this blew me away. It really deals with spirituality, sexuality, and growing up in the most amazing manner.