Thursday, March 31, 2011

Clarity by Kim Harrington

I have to preface this review with a little description of the weather in East Texas. This past weekend was a beautiful one: highs in the mid 70s to low 80s, sunny without the kind of heat that bakes your skin, a light breeze. I took Friday off from work and set up my hammock in my backyard, between two trees that provide the perfect amount of shade. And I proceeded to spend approximately three hours zipping through Kim Harrington's debut novel Clarity in that hammock, in my shorts and tank top, blissful and happy.

I say this not only to make you people who live in the frigid north jealous (how many inches of snow did you get this week?) but also to point out Clarity was a book written for hammock-reading. It's a mystery with a paranormal twist set in New England during the summer. There's frequent talks of beach visits and swimsuits and vacation spots. It's the best kind of popcorn book: well-written with an engaging plot, interesting characters, a witty first-person narrative, and nothing too depressing to darken your sunny skies (metaphorically, of course, since the sun just wouldn't go away last weekend. Your envy sustains me.).

Our protagonist is named Clarity, and surprisingly she's not the character in the book with the most unfortunate name. (That honor belongs to her brother, Periwinkle, or Perry for short). Clarity goes by Clare (and wouldn't you go by Clare too?) and belongs to a family of gifted people. Clare is psychic, her brother Perry is a medium, and her mother can read minds. (Can you think of a worse ability for your mother to have?) Her father left them long ago.

As a family, they run a business where they tell tourists about their lives - they can't tell the future, but they are able to tell the tourists things like "Your husband is sleeping with his secretary." Of course, they only relate negative news when they don't care about being paid. They are not particularly well-regarded by the other people in town, who view them as frauds or freaks. Clare's particular psychic ability doesn't mean that she is all-knowing. Instead, she can touch an item and see the events associated with that item. For example, she'd be able to touch a knife and know it was used to kill someone.

Which brings us to our murder. Clare's town is a vacation hot spot, and one of its visitors has the misfortune to be murdered in her hotel room. This has nothing to do with Clare, until her brother tells her that he had hooked up with the murdered girl the night she was killed. This makes Perry a suspect, and suddenly the murder is very personal.

And then her ex-boyfriend, the son of the mayor, asks her to help him solve the case using her special abilities. Clare and said ex-boyfriend are exes because she touched his jacket and discovered he had cheated on her with her arch-nemesis, a girl named Tiffany (arch-nemeses are almost always named Tiffany, aren't they?). But he convinces her to help in the name of justice...and the fact that she'd also be working with Gabriel, the hot son of the new police chief, doesn't hurt. Love triangle: there is one. It's cute, but it doesn't overwhelm the story. The mystery is central, and it's a good one.

One of the things I liked best about Clarity is Clare's voice. She's snarky without coming across as rude or mean, and she wisecracks constantly. She's got such a wonderfully sarcastic sense of humor. I laughed out loud three times during the first fifty pages.

Clare is a very likable protagonist, and Harrington uses this to her advantage when she writes about Clare's relationships with others in the story, in particular her brother. Because Clare is so likable, we want to trust the people she trusts, which makes it even more wrenching when Perry is suspected. It was really nice to read a story where brother and sister are friends with each other, but the sister doesn't necessarily idolize the older brother. Clare recognizes her brother's faults - he tends to love and leave women, which doesn't put him in a good place when the girl is murdered. Clare is torn between revealing Perry's hookup to the police and keeping it secret. She knows the police don't always arrest the correct person, and her family is already regarded as liars and frauds by the townspeople.

I wasn't terribly surprised by the identity of the killer, but that didn't matter a whole lot. The book kept me guessing long enough, and even if I had known from the beginning, Clarity would have been a treat to read due to the sheer awesomeness of Clare's narrative style. It's been awhile since I've read a story where the narrative voice is so distinctive and entertaining.

Clarity is very obviously the first in a series of books, but the mystery genre has always done series best. This book, like others in its genre, neatly wraps up the murder mystery but leaves open a few threads about Clare's family and her abilities that I anticipate will be explored in future books. It all adds up to a satisfying read that also leaves you wanting more. That, my friends, is the right way to do a series.

Copy checked out from my local library.

Continue reading...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Display This: Australia and New Zealand

I wanted to try something a little different for the next couple of months, as we head into the prime of summer reading season prep and planning for librarians. The Cooperative Summer Library Programming theme this year is about world travel, and one of the things I've been working on is creating book lists and ideas of stories set in countries outside the U.S. So for our next few Display This posts, we'll treat you to books that are set in other countries. A couple of notes: these will be limited to books easily found through book jobbers or in book stores, and they are stories which actually take place in the country. I've also purposely chosen to include only one title per author, the first book in a series, and I've left off authors who may reside in a given country but do not write with a specific setting in mind.

As we travel the world in young adult books, feel free to offer any suggestions you have for additional titles. Likewise, you may replicate this book list as you'd like; just give STACKED credit for creating it.

Let's start with one of my favorite parts of the world to read about: Australia and New Zealand.

A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley: This Sarah Dessen read alike is a story of friendship and a story of romance. Charlie Duskin, our main character, might also have quite a career in music ahead of her. My full review of this title is here.

Pink by Lili Wilkinson: Ava's got a chance to reinvent herself, but as she discovers, hiding who she really is puts her in strange situations. She can't avoid who she is. A great book for readers looking for a LGBTQ book or for readers looking for a book about being true to who you are, no matter what.

Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden (series): A story of survival set after a camping trip among a tight-knit group of friends. This thrilling adventure story will appeal to readers who like fast-paced, action stories or those who want to see the "original" Hunger Games.

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard: Australia has dystopia down with this book about a rag tag group of people who are the only survivors left in the world. They must rely on one another, but then things take a turn for the dark.

Up Over Down Under by Micol Ostow and Noah Harlan (S.A.S.S. series): One student goes to Australia and one student goes to America in this installment of the Sisters Across the Seven Seas series. Looking for a clean read for your teens that's fun and still has romance and adventure? This is a great choice.

Cold Skin by Steven Herrick: In this novel-in-verse, Eddie finds his boring town at the center of a mystery when a girl turns up dead in the local river. Could he be a suspect or is he the one who will unravel the dark secrets lurking in town?

Stolen by Lucy Christopher: A story about a guy who takes his love for a girl a little too far. Of course, you can read my actual review right here.

The Winds of Heaven by Judith Clarke: Clementine and Fan are cousins, but they promise at the end of their summer together to become best friends. Clementine thinks Fan has it all, but the truth is, Fan is lost and searching for something to make her happy.

Beatle Meets Destiny by Gabrielle Williams: Your name happens to be John Lennon and you happen to fall head over heels with a girl named Destiny. Your only problem now is your girlfriend. . . who isn't Destiny.

Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett: This quiet novel explores what it's like for Plum Coyle to finally come of age and the value and importance of people and things in one's life.

The Convicts by Iain Lawrence (series): Tom seeks revenge for his father's unfair imprisonment in London, but as a result, he's sent to Australia and being convicted of murder. But there's much more to await him when he arrives down under.

The Crimes and Punishment of Miss Payne by Barry Jonsberg: Calma and Kiffo know from the second they see Miss Payne enter their classroom, they don't like her. So they're going to get revenge, and when they begin their stalking, they learn there's something much more sinister about their teacher than they ever suspected.

Rose by Any Other Name by Maureen McCarthy: Rose's life is crumbling all around her. At first, she had it all, but it takes little time for things to change. She's ready to run away, but she is stopped before she can get too far. A snarky character and a twisting plot will resonate with readers.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta: A little mystery, a little intrigue, and a whole lot of questions arise over the course of this novel about discovering one's roots. Also: you might know this book because it won a Printz award.

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah: When Amal decides to begin wearing the traditional hijab, she's suddenly finding herself in a very different spot in school. Can she fit in at school and follow the beliefs she has?

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty (series): Letters, diaries, and journal entries plot this story of three girls who become pen pals with three boys over the course of a school year.

Singing the Dogstar Blues by Alison Goodman: This science fiction is set in a futuristic Australia and follows a group of time-traveling students (and maybe even an alien).

Guarian of the Dead by Karen Healey: A fantasy novel set in and near a New Zealand boarding school that plays upon a number of the Maori legend, mythology, and lure.

The 10 p.m. Question by Kate de Goldi: This quirky novel follows 13-year-old Frankie who has a billion questions about the world and few answers. Most people don't take him seriously, except his mother -- and it's his mother he has his most worrying question about. Enter a girl who has as many questions and may have an answer to the one he can't ask the person he trusts most in the world.

Violence 101 by Denise Wright: Hamish's anger problems land him in a home for troubled youth. But when he arrives at his new residence, a series of events cause him to divert his attitude about everything and dive head first into a rescue mission to save someone in an area where two soldiers have already lost their lives.


Of course, this is just a sample of what's available. Many of these authors have additional books that fall into these settings, so those are also worth checking out. Additionally, if you're able to purchase books outside a jobber or are looking to expand your foreign fiction for teens, there are a number of book sellers in Australia willing to send books overseas -- Adele at Persnickety Snark has posted links to a number of those sellers here. If you don't know where to begin, a few titles looking interesting to me and that have gotten some good reviews and acclaim from other readers include Kirsty Eagar's Raw Blue, Fiona Wood's Six Impossible Things, and Cath Crowley's Graffiti Moon.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

The tagline for Ann Aguirre's Enclave is "Welcome to the apocalypse," which gives you a pretty good idea of what it's about.  Deuce, our protagonist, lives in an underground world where the living conditions are harsh, but they help keep everyone alive.  When the citizens of this world are children, they're called by numbers.  They're not given a name until they reach the age of maturity (fifteen) and are finally able to contribute to society by becoming either a Breeder, a Builder, or a Hunter.

On Deuce's fifteenth birthday, she's given her name and initiated as a Huntress, something she's been training for all her life.  As a Huntress, it's her responsibility to not only bring back food, but also protect her community from the Freaks (think zombies) that lurk in the tunnels.  Every hunter has a hunting partner, and Deuce's is Fade, the enigmatic boy (there's your love story) who showed up underground a few years ago and was adopted by the community.  Fade has some strange ideas, coming from aboveground, ideas that may get him and Deuce in trouble - such as that the elders may not always be right, and the restrictive rules that they live by might just get them all killed.

Things aren't going so well for the underground world lately - the Freaks have taken out another community a few days away from Deuce's, and they're encroaching upon hers.  The elders refuse to listen.  Events eventually conspire to force Deuce and Fade aboveground, a fate worse than death.  While the community underground is far from a utopia, aboveground is worse.  Deuce does not expect to survive, but she's got Fade with her, who lived for years there before.  By working together and trying to avoid the bands of savage humans that now populate the earth, they might just survive.

Enclave has a lot going for it.  The world-building is excellent, something I really appreciate considering this aspect is so lacking in so many other books of the same genre.  Aguirre's really got the ability to transfer us to her post-apocalyptic world and make us shiver.  Deuce's underground world - both its setting and its culture - is particularly well done and is unique enough to stand out from the crowd of other post-apocalyptic settings. 

Aguirre has also given us some wonderfully gray characters.  She answers the question of "What would you do to survive in a world like this?" with her characters and doesn't pull any punches.  At least one of the characters has done some pretty awful things, but Aguirre still manages to force some sympathy for said character on the part of the reader.  Deuce is a terrific protagonist, strong but also doubting herself and in a situation that's more than a little over her head. She's kick-ass (how I like my heroines best) but also has believable weaknesses.

With so much going for the book, I'm sad to say that I didn't enjoy it as much as I wanted to.  This dissatisfaction can be traced directly to the plot.  While there is some promise when Deuce is still underground, that fades when she emerges into the wide world above.  From then on, the plot is typical of any other post-apocalyptic novel: a plucky band of survivors try to to find the perhaps-mythical land where things don't suck.  It's a road trip where nothing out of the ordinary happens (and by nothing out of the ordinary, I mean out of the ordinary for this genre - people trying to kill you isn't exactly ordinary for most people).  I can't say a whole lot more without spoiling things, but trust me when I tell you that if I did choose to spoil it for you and you've read one or two other post-apocalyptic novels, you wouldn't be spoiled in the slightest. 

You should not be surprised to hear this is the first book in a series.  Unfortunately, it reads like even less than that - it's more like Part One of the first book in a series.  No major revelation about the post-apocalyptic world is reached, no major character growth occurs, and the climax is so artificial and out of place I wonder if it was inserted after the book had been written.  It wouldn't surprise me at all to discover that Aguirre intended her book to be a standalone and was convinced otherwise by an editor or publisher, forcing her to go back and make major edits, extending a story that was really fit for just one book into two or more books.  After all, this book was originally titled Razorland.  Now it's called Enclave: Razorland #1.  Hmmmm.

It may sound like I'm bashing every YA dystopia and post-apocalyptic book to come along lately, but that's not really the case.  When a genre has exploded as much as this one has lately, there are bound to be more duds than usual.  Most of them normally still have something to recommend them, like Enclave does.  I wouldn't not recommend this one, but I could probably more wholeheartedly recommend it after the second (and third?) book is out so they could be read back to back.  Otherwise, it's an all too unsatisfying and incomplete read.

Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.  Enclave will be on shelves April 12.

Continue reading...

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

I've been reading more adult books to temper some of the less-than-amazing YA books I've read lately. It's not that there's anything horrible, per se, but nothing has been that spectacular for me in a while. Perhaps it's a case of needing a little reading change.

I picked up a copy of David Levithan's first adult novel The Lover's Dictionary at ALA Midwinter, a little reluctantly. I am familiar with Levithan's YA offerings, and I'm a fan of the books he edits at Scholastic. I gave this one a whirl.

I can't give a real plot description for this book, since it's not a plot-driven book. It's not really a character-driven book, either. This is an extended letter from one person in a relationship to another, and the set up is really the point of the story: it's a dictionary.

Each page begins with a word that we're familiar with -- bolster, elegy, only, and yesterday being a few examples -- and then there is a short description for the word, told through an episode in the relationship. Perfunctory, for example, is a short one that reads "I get to sign some of your Christmas cards, but others I don't." Other words have longer explanations, some spanning a few pages. But the entries are short, much like these moments in any romantic relationship are, and the book reads quite fast. Because I wanted to savor it, I read this one in many sittings, over the course of a few days. Since there aren't any character or story arcs in Levithan's book, this is a great book to read at any pace, fast or slow.

This is a sweet book, and I think it really captures both the ups and downs of a relationship. It's at times a little over-the-top for my romantic reading inklings, but these moments are countered with tension in the relationship, too.

Although I liked the book, the story didn't do much for me. I think I liked the execution and style, the exercise in trying a dictionaryesque approach to story telling, much more than what was contained within. I found it kind of thin otherwise, something fairly forgettable. There are some excellent lines in the book, and some things worth quoting reading aloud, but don't go in expecting much in terms of substance. This is the kind of book I'll reread passages from when I'm looking for a little writing inspiration.

While Levithan is a well-known YA author, this is not a book for teens. There's an interesting discussion on one of the YALSA blogs about this book, and how there's question of why this wouldn't be one worth cross-shelving (that is, having a copy in adult fiction and one in teen fiction). But for me, there's no reason for this. Sure, the characters in The Lover's Dictionary are adults; however, the reason this isn't a book for teens is that this is a story about an adult relationship. It's a love letter, sure, and there are teens who will read this and love this. But the fact of the matter is, it's a very limited appeal to teens who simply do not have this sort of understanding yet. They're not mature enough to appreciate what this is, and frankly, there are many better books for teens that are love letters between romantic partners. It's less an issue of sexuality (there's not much) or of language (again, not much) but more an issue of development and understanding of the adult side of life. Teens will get there on their own; we don't need to push them there. Those who are ready will find their way to the adult fiction area themselves and discover this.

Pass this off to your fans of romantic reads or books that are simply a little different. It's not standard Levithan, but I think it might drive adult readers to check out his other works.

Continue reading...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Guest Post: Sarah of Green Bean Teen Queen

Today you're in for a special treat -- Sarah of Green Bean Teen Queen has stopped by to talk about her favorite Printz books and why they're her favorites. In case you didn't know, she is on the ballot for the 2013 American Library Association's Printz committee and voting is open now. If you haven't cast your ballot yet, here's your opportunity to see why Sarah deserves to be nominated to the committee.

Asking a librarian about her favorite book is like asking a parent to choose a favorite child-it just can’t be done! Especially when those books are limited to Printz Winners and Honor Books-there are so many great books to choose from! Do I go with the funny and pick Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging? Do I go for the book that packed an emotional punch with The First Part Last? Do I pick the book that surprised me the most and blew me away when I wasn’t expecting it with How I Live Now?

After really looking at the Printz books, I have to say that Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light is my all time favorite Printz book. Why? Because it combines mystery, history, and coming of age, as well as facts and fiction. You care about the characters. Mattie Gokey is a fantastic character and her journey is one you can’t soon forget. She’s faced with various options in life and is at a crossroads. Even though it’s a historical novel, the decisions Mattie has to face about growing up are something that teens of any time period can relate to. There’s also a bit of mystery that goes along with Mattie’s story. The author takes a real life story and creates a fictional story around it and brings the entire thing to life. I’ve recommended this book to so many people and it’s one of my favorite YA reads as well as Printz reads!

OK, so after picking my all time favorite Printz book, what do I think makes a good Printz book? I think the book has to be a book that really and truly reflects the amazingness that is young adult fiction (or non-fiction). YA is an area that is often looked down on and snubbed by readers and I think part of the job of the Printz is to highlight the books that show how wonderful and powerful YA can be. The books should be books that teens and librarians read and discuss. While not everyone will love the books that picked, they should encourage discussion and get people thinking and talking. They also need to be books that librarians can pick up and say “this is why I do what I do-because YA is an incredible field that offers some of the best books out there.” Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to help choose those books!

Continue reading...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What I'm Reading Now

Hunger Games Trilogy, Books 1-3 on audio
My job is awesome enough that I can usually listen to audiobooks while I work (provided I only put an earbud in one ear), and I tend to prefer listening to books I've already read so I don't have to give the audio my full attention. I bought all three of the Hunger Games audios for my library, and they circulate amazingly well, so I'm surprised I was able to get my hands on all three in quick succession. The story is terrific, as I already knew, but I had major problems with the narrator. She sounds too old to be Katniss and her inflection of certain passages sounded off to me - not how I heard Katniss in my mind when I read the books. As a result, Katniss came across as WAY more annoying this go-round than when I read the books the first time. I mean, I know she's going through a lot of bad shiz, but MUST she be so emo? That said, the narrator's voicing of other characters, particularly the male characters, was more convincing. It helps that she has a rather deep voice for a female.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore, on audio
Oh Full Cast Audio, how I love you. I'm only a few tracks in on the very first CD, but this audio is already miles ahead of the Hunger Games audios. Katsa's voice sounds like her, and Po's voice is more than a little dreamy. I look forward to seeing how this book fares on re-read (or rather, re-listen). There were elements I loved so much, in particular the relationship between Katsa and Po, and other elements I thought dragged. Hopefully I won't find Katsa as annoying as I found Katniss on audio. So far, so good.

The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene
I don't know if I've mentioned my fascination with alternate/parallel universes before. I'm a little (a lot) obsessed with them. It goes back mostly to my intense and unending love of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy, aka The Best Books Ever Written, but it's also reflected in my love for Stargate SG-1 and the Narnia books and my fascination with the idea of time travel . And here is Brian Greene, writing about the possibility of parallel universes in sciencespeak that I can understand. Awesome.
The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kittredge
I've heard a lot of great things about this book, but I'm still not entirely sure what it's about. From what I can gather, it's set in a steampunk world where a necrovirus drives almost everyone in the city of Lovecraft mad. Our protagonist, Aiofe, is a ward of the state since all of her family members went mad at age 16. The worldbuilding is supposed to be excellent, and at over 500 pages, it had better be. I'm also promised complex characters and a surprising plot. I can't wait to dig into this one. (Although I have to admit, the blurb isn't encouraging, and neither is the fact that the cover girl looks like she's about to have an accidental Mardi Gras moment.)

Continue reading...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Playing Hurt by Holly Schindler

Chelsea always wanted to play basketball in college -- it was her ticket to a big scholarship and it was a game she loved. She was passionate about it. But then an accident on the court her junior year leaves her wounded
and unable to pursue this dream.

She aches.

Clint is a former hockey player who works at a lake resort in Minnesota. Something terrible has happened to him -- something so awful he's quit playing hockey and vows never to play again. When Chelsea's family takes a trip there for three weeks during the summer, her father hires Clint to help Chelsea regain some of the physical strength she's lost during her recuperation.

Even though Chelsea's in a relationship and Clint's not a believer in the summer fling, their shared struggles to overcome the loss of their dreams may bring them together in surprising ways.

Playing Hurt is Schindler's second novel, and it is a completely different story than her first, A Blue So Dark (reviewed here). Although both stories deal with loss and grief to some degree, this one focuses on what it feels like to lose the thing you love the most. For Chelsea, this is basketball. It's ripped from her prematurely, and it's done in a manner that is completely out of her control. It was a real accident, and it's a moment she lives over and over, both in her mind and in person: she has a video of it. She continues watching it, hoping for some sort of solace in it. It's aching because as readers, we know how it feels to have a dream like that and have it torn from you.

For Clint, we're left a little more in the dark about what happened to him. We know he's experienced pain and loss, and frankly, he'll never tell. He'll admit when confronted, but he won't be the one to tell Chelsea or the readers. Since I don't want to ruin it, I'll say it goes back to his beliefs about love and relationships.

The book is written in dual voices, beginning with Chelsea's and then going to Clint's. Their voices are distinct, though I wasn't entirely convinced of Clint's voice nearer the end of the story. Chelsea's is pitch perfect, though, and Schindler really grasps her pain and her need to recover. The story is well paced, and like in A Blue So Dark, it is quite literary in execution. There are moments when the language really begs to be read aloud.

One of the issues I had with this book was Chelsea's preoccupation with losing her virginity. Although that in and of itself wasn't problematic, it doesn't really present itself early on. We know she has a boyfriend at home, and we know he's gone to great lengths to arrange a date for them to have sex for the first time together after she returns from her trip. Well, because she and Clint become an item, his work will be for naught. Chelsea gives it up to Clint. The bigger issue, though, is the writing in these intimate scenes -- and there are quite a few of them. I found it clunky and unbelievable, especially from Clint's voice. It came off more Harlequin than teen, more of a voice of experience and sensuality than of two clumsy teenagers in the backwoods of Minnesota. As much as I didn't want it to, it did mar some of the great aspects of Chelsea and Clint's characters.

Moreover, there is nearly no remorse in Chelsea for cheating on her long time boyfriend. She'd been with Gabe for two years, but she spent no time really thinking about him while engaging with Clint. Sure, she sent him letters and checked her email from him, but in those intimate moments, it never crossed her mind. This made me really dislike her as a character, despite the point of the story being to care about her and want her to overcome the loss she's experienced with her injury. And trust me when I say it didn't make me like Clint anymore, either, since he knew full well she was in a relationship.

That said, this is a story focused more on character than on sport, but your maturer sports readers who appreciate stories like Catherine Gilbert Murdock's Dairy Queen will enjoy this one. Chelsea and Clint are relatable characters and what they go through in terms of mourning loss and accepting change will resonate with readers who've done the same.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Aging Middle Grade Covers

Last week, I talked about covers changing from their hardcover debut to their paperback. This week, I thought I'd talk about another trend that I'm still wrestling with, and that is the aging up of middle grade covers. Middle grade for me has always been about cover art: there's been less reliance on stock photos -- particularly of people -- and more use of actual art. There's also been a lot of straight forward stock image use with a striking color background.

However, I've noticed this is also changing, as more and more middle grade covers are growing up. They're getting covers with models on them -- people -- and they look more teen than tween appropriate. I think this is both a good and a bad thing; for many readers this age, it's a good thing. It makes them feel older and makes them feel like they're reading an older book. But the reverse is true: it could be what makes many unready readers feel they can tackle a tougher teen book.

Let's look through some recent examples:

This is one of the common covers for Zia by Scott O'Dell. I like it: I really think the colors and the artistically rendered (note: not stock photo) person really give this cover its feeling. But there's been a change for this one, and it's one I quite like.

Isn't it gorgeous? I think this cover has mega appeal and has a real contemporary feel to it. The only qualm I have with it is that it's definitely not a middle school girl on the cover. She's certainly older. But for this particular book, I'm not sure that's problematic. I think the appeal is still to the right audience.

Here's another one from Scott O'Dell, and this one's going to be a rerelease. The original cover (dated, obviously):

They did update this one a few years later to this cover, which I quite like (it has a very Face On the Milkcarton feel to it).

They're re-releasing this title in April this year with another new cover. You can guess what made me want to talk about this one a little.

I'm not sure how I feel about this one. The girl doesn't work for me in this cover -- too much attitude. I don't know whether she's appealing to readers; she's a bit off putting. I do like what they've done with the newspaper ad as the background for the title and author, as it plays off the last cover.

Now, let's take another well-known middle grade author and look at some of the cover make overs she's had.

This is one of Bauer's titles that leans a little more teen than middle grade, to be fair. But the cover is an artistic one. And it's been remade.

There's a couple other of her titles that have had such a makeover, too.

I don't care much for this cover. It's a little too technicolor for my tastes. I do like the makeover this one's gotten, and I think it ups appeal too (but maybe for older readers more than middle grade readers):

Let's look at another of Bauer's cover make overs before talking about the last two books that have come out.

A little too much red for my taste. This one has gotten a mighty makeover, though:

This cover reminds me of a million others. I'm actually a little torn, though, since I think it increases appeal to the middle grade audience more than the prior cover. Part of that is, of course, simply because of the dating issue. But let's look at the last two books released by Bauer. They've been released with stock photos first, and I think both make a real statement.

I love this cover. This is a book I've read, and I think it's perfectly fitting. The story takes place in an area where apples are a big deal for the economy and tourism, and there's also a big aspect of the story involving newspaper reporting. Definite middle school appeal on this one.

This is her latest book, and again, I consider it middle grade, but this cover reads older to me. I think that it will appeal to both the middle and high school readers. I'm also noticing a food trend on these books. Hmm...

Here's another original release, and this one is quite recent.

I don't think I care a lot for this cover. The girl definitely looks older than the target audience. And actually, the thing probably bothering me the most is the dumbest, and it's the unbuttoned side of the overalls. I get what it's trying to do but it doesn't work for me. I'm curious about the appeal of this one -- I think it will work for middle grade. I think the font and off-centeredness of the title and the girl are appealing and give this cover just enough difference to stand out on a shelf. But man, I wish she'd button the side of her pants!

A cover make over I really like this is one, and I think it will give this book an entirely new, fresh middle grade audience.

Dated, no? But original art, if nothing else. Fortunately, they've updated it. Sure, it's a stock photo, but they've done enough manipulating to it to really jazz it up.

It's got just enough creepiness to it, too. I think this is a fantastic middle grade cover, as it has loads of appeal to the target readership and it doesn't try too hard to mimic covers of books meant for older readers.

One last one that stuck out to me for a while is this one:

This is the original cover of Erskine's Mockingbird. It's not bad and it's not great. It's quiet, which is what I understand of the book itself. This is the kind of cover that will let the reader find it; the right reader will know. I like it, since it doesn't really age the book at all. It gives it a classicness but it does feel middle grade -- I think that's in the font use.

Naturally, the paperback gets a makeover, though.

Notice a few things with me. First, most middle grade novels do not have a blurb. They will include book subtitles or notes about the author's prior works and awards. But this one? It gets the Publisher's Weekly review blurbed on the front. Middle grade readers probably don't care it's "a moving and insightful masterpiece." They want a good story.

They've kept the font for the cover, which I like, but they've ramped up the color a bit. I will say, though, I think the girl on the cover is the right age. But what's she saying to the middle grade reader here? The cover is, no doubt, attractive and appealing, but this is where I want to talk a bit -- for me, middle grade readers are less about the feelings conveyed by the cover than teen readers are. They want to know the story more. For me, this cover is almost off putting, since there is so much feeling conveyed in the way the girl is positioned, in how her back is to readers. She's not inviting. It's here where I begin questioning why books aimed at middle grade readers are looking more and more like teen books and almost more like they're targeted at adults than the kids themselves.

For me, the clincher on this is the PW quote. There is nothing about the story in that comment, as it's written to adults for adults. Why is it there?

I'm not sure this is a trend I like or dislike, as I've seen both sides. I know there are plenty of other covers that are doing this, so if you know of any particularly good ones, share them in the comments. I'm also interested in your take on this trend. Do you like it? Do you find it as a way to turn off readers or perhaps lead them into other books that they're not ready for?

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