Sunday, October 17, 2010

Emerging from a Cocoon

Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett is a beautifully written book. Each scene is precisely set up with succinct and tiny details, and each character is given intent and motivation. Sentences are long, but elegant and containing a penchant for listing.

These facts, as I relate them, may indicate that beside its beauty, Butterfly is a dense story. Despite it's relatively short length of 232 pages, it is not a quick read. I'm unsure of who the audience is, as I would find it surprising if the average teen readers I know will make it all the way through the text. I myself fell asleep several times while reading. In the middle of the day on a Saturday. When I didn't previously feel sleepy.

The intent of Butterfly is to show Ariella "Plum" in the throws of her last weeks of being a child, as she miraculously changes into an adolescent with real hints of becoming a woman. These few weeks are supposed to contain the actions and consequences of what will form her nascent adult self. I don't feel that it is entirely successful. Plum does change, but I'm not convinced that it is into a butterfly, but rather something a little more callous. The reader is introduced to all of the major players in her life, her two brothers, Justin and Cydar, her parents (sadly underdeveloped), her flock of girlfriends (an assortment of cruel and kind, where she and we witness mob mentality), and the neighbor woman who is having an intent affair with an apathetic Justin.

Cydar, the middle brother is easily the most interesting character in the book. Supposedly brilliant, and not without flaws, he is observant and good, and cares more about his family and especially his baby sister than anything else in the world. He is hyperaware of his compulsion toward a tarnished nobility and is a little rueful about it - knowing that he'd sacrifice for Plum's benefit even if he were to suffer as a result.

"Plum loves Justin more than she loves Cydar, people usually do and cannot be blamed, and although he'd hoped that his sister might be something other than usual, Cydar accepted the situation years ago. It's never diminished the rumble of responsibility he feels in his chest for her. But the honk of her voice, the slope to her stance, the sore look of the skin on her forehead, the unwillingness of her clothes to fit well: all of these are making Cydar, who loves Plum more than anyone does, reluctant to look at her. The desperation which singes the edges of her - this is even worse. She's not fourteen, but sitting on the bungalow step Cydar is sure he sees how her life will unfold. Be fearsome, he wants to tell her. Defy. His own life depends on her doing so. His existence will never be all it can be if Plum stands in its corner, happy for and proud of him, but misaligned and alone. She will stunt him, and he will let her" p 62.


"And in [Cydar's] tightly stoned state he has a profound realization: Everyone in his family is sad. Mums and Fa, living lives that never managed to rise above the ordinary. Plum and Justin, aware of the peril, but neither of them clever enough to avoid a similar fate. Cydar himself, who will achieve enough for all of them, but will never feel rightly made for the world" p 106.

I should also address the fact that the book is set vaguely in the 1980's. There's no discernible reason for the setting, nor is it a major character. The only hints are an acknowledgement of a previous love of ABBA from some of the girls, and a subtle lack of modern technology. It brings up the argument of whether a quasi-historical setting was necessary, and if authors should set stories in the past if there's no reason beside the author's own faint nostalgia.

I'm putting this in the same boat as I put The Spell Book of Listen Taylor and The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kent. Well written, dense, slightly pretentious, and will probably have more adult fans than teen. If you, or anyone you know liked either or both of those books, Butterfly is one to investigate. If you have a great deal of patience and want a true character study, Butterfly will also hit the mark. If you're craving some plot-driven action, this one moves through thick, dark, sticky sludge. But it'll force you to create new synapses in your brain.

It's a good-for-you book. And probably has a shot at the Printz, depending of course, on who's on the committee.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2009 Top Ten for readergirlz

Every year the divas at readergirlz ask each of us on their advisory panel for our top ten favorite girl-power books we read during 2009. It's usually a pretty gut-wrenching list to create, as anything with a female main character, regardless of publication date is game. Beyond that, the criteria is created by each of the individual postergirlz.

What I tried to do with my list was pick books that were entertaining, memorable, and containing enough meat that they would have enough fodder if rgz were to pick a title for a month-long feature.

Here's what I gave them:

2009 Top Ten for rgz

1. Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney
I've really got to dedicate a whole post to this one. Three girls. Three generations. One family. Three times the drama, three times the heartbreak. But each girl can't help but hope for something a little better than what her mother left her with.

2. Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine
Much like Valentine's last book, this one is quiet and introspective, and very British. Rowen's brother has just died. Her father is entirely absent, and her mother has entirely withdrawn into herself. Reality doesn't really play a part of her mom's world anymore. So it's up to Rowen. Not a big deal, except that means she's got to take care of her little sister, too. And really, she's not completely over her brother's death either.

3. Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers
This is a girl you can't help but love - even though she'll be the first one to cut you down. Parker is in pain. No, make that Pain. Something happened, and it was all her fault. She can't forgive herself, she can't stand herself - and as part of the punishment she's going to make darn sure no one else wants to be around her either.

4. The Forrest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
Zombies. I can't help it. IF there were to actually be zombies, this is actually plausible to me. And it makes me want to prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Which I was already worried about.

5. How It Ends by Laura Wiess
The one book sure to reduce you to a quivering pool of slobbery tears. It starts out all normal, then WHAP, this ain't your typical YA anymore.

6. If I Stay by Gaye Foreman
Girl in coma. To Live or To Die...

7. Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern
Ah, hilarity. What do you do when the only friends you've ever had turn out to suck? Well, it's off into the wild nerd yonder to see if you can to any better than back-stabbers. It shouldn't be too hard, right?

8. Jumping off Swings by Jo Knowles
Teen pregnancy - and how, for once, it effects those around the pregnant teen. Including the father - who's possibly more surprised than any at how this effects him.

9. The Miles Between by Mary Pearson
Coincidences. Is there meaning behind them? Is it fate's payback? Should you steal a car just because it's there, and then escape with three people you don't even like, just because you can?

10. Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle
This is a truly wonder sister story. I don't have any sisters, but I think Myracle really hit the dynamic perfectly. The simultaneous love/hate relationship was well played out.

11. What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
I wasn't sure about this one at first. It was a pretty slow-moving train, but as all that tension mounts, and as the stakes get raised, the transformation of Evie is complete and irreparable.

Honorary, but too young for Rgz

1. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
This is the book that soothes my Green Gables soul. Even though the passion is for science, rather than books. You just can't help but be charmed by this book.

2. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
There's something deliciously old-school about this one that, at the same time, feels entirely fresh. I won't go into the insanely convoluted plot (when time travel is involved, how can it help being any other way?).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Awards Speculation

Yeah, I know you don't really need another one of these, especially since the announcement is mere hours away, but I'm thinking about it, so I might as well think about it aloud. Besides, I did pretty good last year.

I think the front-runner in everyone's mind at the moment (well, except the committee themselves, as I do believe they've already made their decision) is MARCELLO IN THE REAL WORLD by Francisco X. Stork. It handily won my library's Mock Printz, but IF I STAY got an honor through us, so take that with a grain of salt (this is not to say I wasn't moved by IIS, but... I don't know if it's "Printz-worthy").

ASH by Malinda Lo is also a Morris Award contender. People have been fairly gobsmacked by this Cinderella retelling, so I think it's got an outside chance despite the potential of a double win.

GENTLEMEN by Michael Northrop. This one lingers, and it is in the aftertaste that you begin to truly appreciate all that went on here. Kyle has even picked GENTLEMEN up, read it, and loved it, and wrote a review for me that is forthcoming.

BLUE PLATE SPECIAL by Michelle D. Kwasney. I love this book. I don't think anyone's heard of it (unless they've been good little readers and paid attention to the Cybils), but I can't help but evangelize all over the place for it. So now I'm doing it here, too.

LIAR by Justine Larbalestier... I don't know what to say about this one. I certainly didn't like it. BUT. It is kinda remarkable that the reader can choose to read it as a psychological thriller (?) or a fantasy novel. Of course, if you read it as fantasy, you are totally wrong in my mind.

by Justina Chen. People love this book. Really, really love it. It's not without it's faults, but in a roomful of YA Lit people, this one will, no matter what, have ardent supporters. As an added, but completely irrelevant since it's not qualifying criteria, bonus: teens love it too.

LIPS TOUCH by Laini Taylor. Haven't read it. I'll be starting tonight, now that my hold has finally come in. From what I can tell, everyone who isn't a fantasy or short story hater seems to think it's brilliant. And even some of them confess love.

I think there might be librarians rioting in the streets if Rebecca Stead's lovely WHEN YOU REACH ME doesn't take home at least an honor.

I only read a handful of middle grade books, so my knowledge is limited but I'd love to see HEART OF A SHEPHERD by Rosanne Parry and THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE by Jacqueline Kelly with shiny medals on their covers. Though I have not read it, I wouldn't be surprised to see 11 BIRTHDAYS by Wendy Mass on their list. Grace Lin's WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON seems to have everyone drooling of late, so keep that one on your radar, as well.

If MARCELLO IN THE REAL WORLD doesn't take home the Schneider, blood was probably spilled in that committee over it, so walk carefully if you know anyone of that group. They might still have their blades out.

Honor- and other level-wise, I have no idea. ALIBI JUNIOR HIGH was a pretty awesome depiction of both PTSD and amputation, while still being mad entertaining, so I wouldn't be completely surprised to see it, despite the slightly far-fetched premise. I also have a ginormous soft spot for HOW IT ENDS by Laura Wiess, and it's earth-shattering depiction of Parkinson's Disease. The ending might provide a bit of a problem for the committee, though. Chen's NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL, depending on how the committee decides to interpret disability, could also be a contender.

Coretta Scott King:
I gotta tell you that I'm pulling for THE ROCK AND THE RIVER by Kekla Magoon. Of course, I would be ecstatic to see the lovely Tanita Davis win for her wonderful MARE'S WAR, and quite happy to see Sherri L. Smith's FLYGIRL win as well. I'd be less happy if JUMPED by Rita Carlos Williams wins, but what with the "outstanding inspirational and educational" criteria, I'm not entirely sure JUMPED qualifies.

Actually, I say all this, but I'm sure CLAUDETTE COLVIN: TWICE TOWARD JUSTICE will be recognized. Pinkney's THE LION AND THE MOUSE is sure to be recognized for the illustrator award.

Yeah. I got nothin' here. Perhaps Scanlon's ALL THE WORLD and/or THE LION AND THE MOUSE.

This was fun. I should blog more often.