Thursday, June 30, 2011

ALA 2011: This, Too, Is More Than Just Books

Like thousands of other librarians, I made my way down to New Orleans last weekend for the annual American Libraries Association conference. It was a tiring, exhausting, and completely fun and exhilarating trip. But here's my recap and some of the take aways worth noting!

Friday, June 24

It wasn't a good travel day at all for me, between a horrendous security experience and then having my phone shut off for an unpaid bill (which wasn't, in fact, unpaid nor overdue). But after shuffling through the drama between Milwaukee, Baltimore, and New Orleans, I made it to my beautiful hotel room, where I would spend a few lovely nights with Abby and fellow UT Alumni Lea. Since all of the dealing with real life stuff took a while, my day really began when I had the chance to meet up with fellow librarians Drea, Katie, Sarah, and Angie just before 5 pm, when the exhibit hall opened for opening night. I got to meet two other lovely librarians that evening, Whitney, who Angie brought and who is a library school student getting her networking on at the convention, and Jess, one of Drea's friends and coworkers. Drea, prior to ALA, made us all pins that would become really important over the course of ALA.

Can you read what it says in Latin? If not, I'll say this much: Blythe Woolston's Morris statement.

When the exhibit hall opened, we did some booking. While sitting outside the expo hall, I was listening to the bloggers near me compare their wish lists for books at the convention, and I lamented to the group that my wish list contained all of two books. For me, going through the halls is less about getting a bunch of titles on a list but instead, it's about finding out about new titles that I don't already know about.

Although the exhibit hall always is an exciting, energy-filled place, I felt a little zapped. Call it burn out after BEA or what have you, but I was pretty much done wandering after about 30 minutes. I'd gotten both books on my wish list and acquired a small handful of additional books that interested me and would interest the book club kids at work. So, Abby and I left early in order to prepare for the big event we'd be attending later that evening. Here's the first night's collection:

My two wish list titles, Tempest and Lie were both there, and I was really excited to be given a few publicists' favorites, as well. For me, the floor at ALA is much less about picking up every galley laid out and much more about talking to the publicists I know via email and finding out their favorites. At BEA, the focus is much heavier on buzz titles; at ALA -- at least this time -- it felt like there were more mid-list titles represented.

After the floor time, we hit up our first event of ALA: the Little, Brown Laini Taylor party for her forthcoming book The Daughter of Smoke and Bone (a book you'll be hearing Kim and/or I gushing about when publication date draws closer). The event was at a local bar, and the room glowed this incredible blue color, really setting the mood for her book. I was lucky enough to have read the book beforehand, so seeing all of the little things at the event that coincided with the event was fun. I also had my first ever tarot card reading, enjoyed the variety of feathered masks, and got to give away an ILOA pin to Laini herself. She loved it so much that she blogged about our group of librarians, including a picture, and her pin!

Since none of us had eaten prior to the event, we skipped out a bit early to hit up the pizza shop next door. Insert some details here that I don't want to rehash, and then we made our way BACK to the original party venue because we had been told earlier that it turned into an 80s dance bar after the Laini event. So, along with tons of other librarians, Laini, the publicists at Little, Brown, and Carrie Ryan, we rocked out to non-stop 80s dance music. How many other people can say they've conga lined with a National Book Award finalist? Not many. It was an incredibly fun and memorable party for a book that deserved such a fun reception.

Saturday, June 25

Even though I got a little burned out on the expo floor Friday, I spent a large portion of Saturday wandering again, picking up a handful of additional titles and talking with the publicists that I didn't get a chance to speak with the night before. When Abby and I got back to Little, Brown, we were told we needed to get another copy of Smoke and Bone, and because we were told we had to, we did. And honestly, I'm glad I did, because the copy I had will be donated to my teens while the copy I picked up at ALA, well, it's for me:

How cool is that?

Saturday was really a laid back kind of day, but it was also a little stressful because I wasn't finding sessions that really interested me. I spent more time in the expo hall than listening to presentations, but I did have the opportunity to reunite with a number of people I went to graduate school with who I haven't seen since moving from Texas -- catching up with where they are and what they're doing, I think, was just as valuable as sitting in on a session.

About four or so, Abby and I dropped off our book piles for the day and made our way over to a cocktail reception we'd been invited to by Candlewick. They had a lovely spread of appetizers, and along with the other ILOAs, we talked books, libraries, and story time. A librarian we didn't know happened to sit with us at the event, and when we started talking about Katie's storytime blog, she knew exactly what blog we were talking about, and then we all gushed over it and over Sarah's Awesome Storytime blog, too. We didn't stick around at the reception too long because Saturday night was the YA Blogger Meetup that, along with YA Highway, I was helping host.

But before then, I snagged a photo of the books I'd picked up so far -- it's a smaller pile that BEA and even Midwinter, as I have finally figured out how to be selective. I also used this small window of time to put some finishing touches onto the presentation that Sarah and I would be giving the next day and to take a small, but much-needed, nap.

The YA Blogger Meetup started out with a slight panic moment from yours truly, but because no one was there to witness it except for Abby, no one was any wiser to it. We met up at Tommy's Wine Bar a little before 8 pm, and Kirsten Hubbard and Kate Hart (two of the brains behind YA Highway) helped coordinate a smart set up for the meet up. There'd been a party prior to our arrival, and the tables/chairs weren't set up ideally. But between those ladies and the incredibly helpful and friendly staff at Tommy's, we managed to snag nearly the entire one side of the lounge for our event. And, as you can see in the photo, Kirsten earned the second ILOA pin I had received for all of her hard work in making this event happen.

At Midwinter, I was so pleased with the turnout for our event, but I think the turn out this year may have surpassed it. Check out these group shots, courtesy of YA Highway:

It was so nice meeting people who I know only via blog names, and it was nice putting faces to the names of books I knew. Among the attendees were Elana Johnson, Medeia Sharif, and, of course, Kirsten Hubbard. The ladies who helped organize this fun event and I managed to snag a photo together, too, and you can read their recap of the event (and their ALA experience) here. No, I'm really not sure what's going on with my hair in this picture, either.

Sunday, June 26

I'll admit it was hard to get going today! I skipped out on both a breakfast and a brunch I was invited to, and instead, I chose to walk the expo floor for a few minutes, hit up a publisher's preview session at the convention center, then attempt to press my clothes for my presentation. The last part is key, since it turned out I'm about as good at ironing as I am at speaking Russian. Which is to say, I had to bring in an expert (Lea) to do it for me.

Between pressing attempts, I attended what was probably the best session at ALA: the Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) teen feedback session. If you've never been, this is the session where actual teens get the chance to tell the BFYA committee which books they read and why they did or did not like it. Listening to these smart and well spoken teens is interesting, and anyone interested can read the live tweeting of this session here. One of the teens who shared her views was so, so good that we wanted to track her down after and tell her she should get reviewing via a blog or Goodreads. Lucky for us and for everyone else, she already does, right here. If you are going to take away one thing from my recap, take away that blog! Real teens reading books meant for them.

So then, it was show time! Prior to the presentation, I'd talked with Kirsten Hubbard about coming to it to talk a little bit about what it means to be a contemporary writer and why contemporary lit is important. But, as it turns out, our time for talking was much tighter than I could have imagined, and Kirsten didn't get a chance to pitch the genre as much as I'd hoped she could (or that she probably prepared for, either). She and Kate Hart met me at the hotel where our presentation was, and Sarah met up shortly after. We got into the room, which was smaller and more confined than I anticipated, and which also seemed to lack a space to project our presentation. We ditched the idea, and we stuck to using just my computer and a very enlarged version of my Prezi, since the attendees would be sitting in chairs around our table for a smaller, more intimate discussion.

The presentation was part of YALSA's new Mash Up concept, which put 16 different presentations in the same room and let attendees choose a new session every 20 minutes to listen to. The idea was really smart, but there were a number of issues, including that time was far too short (we only got to talk about maybe 1/10 of what we wanted to talk about!) and that there was only time for 4 sessions.

That said, I could not be happier with how our presentation turned out. Sarah and I had some amazing support via The Contemps, who helped contribute videos to the presentation and who cheered us on along the way more than once. Basically, Sarah and I book talked to the table. We made no real preparations in terms of what we'd say, but instead, we talked about what we wanted to talk about. Each session we talked up different books, gave tips for how to incorporate these books into reader's advisory for really popular and well known authors, and how to be advocates for contemporary lit. We received fantastic feedback from attendees, and our handouts went like hotcakes. We were asked some great questions, and it was such a shame that we couldn't answer them the way we wanted to because of the time constraints. Without doubt, I think this is a topic I'd like to explore further and perhaps present on again because it was obvious there was an interest. Our table was full every session, and people were taking notes furiously. I think what was most rewarding was knowing that we were talking books that attendees weren't familiar with and so everyone walked away with new knowledge. And it didn't hurt that people told us how well prepared we were and how strong our book talks were -- which both of us winged right there.

Of course, a huge thank you also goes out to Kirsten and Katie, who stuck around and supported us throughout the presentation. It was nice to have familiar faces and people who were as passionate about our topic as we were around -- and it was nice to let Kirsten do the pitching for her book right to librarians.

After the presentation, I was completely exhausted and headed back to my hotel room, where I treated myself to something I haven't had in months:

And it was pretty much the most amazing thing I could have. Upon finishing that bad boy, my roommates came back and we had a girls night in, enjoying a childhood classic on DVD, Now and Then.

Monday, June 27
On my last day of ALA, I took it easy again. I hit the floor one last time, picked up a small handful of galleys, and had the opportunity to meet Michelle Hodkin, author of the forthcoming The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. I had talked with her about meeting up before, but it wasn't until she approached me on the show floor that we got to connect. It was nice to put a face to a name, and it was nice to chat in such a fun, lively environment about the books we mutually adore (like Imaginary Girls).

The other big Monday event, which I failed to note earlier, was that Abby and I had the chance to reconnect with our friend Antony John, who has a new book coming out next April. You may remember our encounter with him at Anderson's, where we spent an entire day learning about his then-forthcoming The Five Flavors of Dumb. It was really exciting when we got to see him Monday that he also remembered who we were and asked if we'd planned on going to Anderson's again this year. What fun! And his new book, Thou Shall Not Road Trip looks like a wonderful exploration of spirituality and the meaning of faith -- via road trip!

I had an invite to a lovely lunch on Monday, but my exhaustion, coupled with travel-related phobia, led me to skipping out and instead, reflecting upon the entire experience.

Biggest Take Aways

As always, I took away a lot of books that I'll get the chance to read and promote with my kids at work, but the conference is about so much more than that alone. I think what I took away this time was really quite selfish -- I've never once felt like I'm an expert at anything or that I have a real passion for a topic. But after presenting on contemporary lit and being able to answer the questions that came up during the presentation, I feel like it's an area I really do know well. It's a topic about which I'm passionate and about which I want to continue working into my professional life however I can.

Moreover, I reconnected with the importance of advocating for teens and their interests. This is less about what was picked up in sessions and much more about what was picked up in networking and talking with fellow youth advocates. It's essential to be a listener and be a team player, but it's also key to be an adult and take the steps necessary to make things happen rather than let them happen.

On another selfish note, I got a lot of enjoyment from connecting with writers at ALA, both from the librarian perspective and from the writing perspective. As someone who has been a life long writer and someone who has been struggling to make it a part of my daily life again, it's valuable to hear from those who are making it happen. It's a big support group, and the routes to making things happen are so different. But this is, of course, key.

Hi to everyone I had a chance to meet with at ALA this year, and I look forward to talking further!

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Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker

If your whole life has centered on your faith and your religious convictions, is it possible for one person to change your mind about those beliefs? That's the question Melissa Walker tackles in her thoughtful, well-paced, and exceptionally even-handed new title, Small Town Sinners.

Lacey Anne has lived her whole life in her small town, and one of the biggest components of her existence is her religion. She's a good girl who goes to church, believes and follows in the word of God, and has two of the most supportive friends she can imagine -- Dean and Starla Jo -- who also subscribe to deep religious beliefs. And now, what Lacey's been dreaming about for a while now might be just within her grasp: playing the abortion girl in their church's Hell House.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Hell House, it's similar in set up to a Halloween haunted house, except that instead of being creepy features in different areas of the house, different Biblical sins are acted out in a means to open the eyes of attendees toward the word of God. For Lacey, being the character who portrays the role of a girl getting an abortion, one of the most emotionally-wrenching scenes for both the actor and the audience, meant a lot.

She doesn't get the role. At least, not immediately. When secrets begin unraveling in the small town, and sinners are sent to handle their problems in private, out of the public's eye, Lacey has the opportunity to take the role she's always dreamed of. The thing is, when Ty arrives in town, he'll challenge her every belief and ask her to reconsider her ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, and faith and truth. She'll even reconsider whether she belongs in this powerful role or not.

Walker's book is nothing like her prior titles, and I am so excited to see such a change in the type of story she tells here. While I enjoyed both her Violet series and Lovestruck Summer, what she does in Small Town Sinners is something powerful: she manages to tell a moving, honest story without passing an ounce of judgment. It's a fine line to toe, especially when a story contains religion as a core element. Fortunately, Lacey as a character is fully fleshed -- she's not just a religious girl. She has passions and interests, and her personality is defined far beyond her beliefs. And Ty, who represents the opposite beliefs as Lacey, is actually not that much different from her. He attends church service, too, and he hasn't entirely shut religion out of his life. Instead, he's experienced things in his life that caused him to think about what he believes.

All of the characters in this story have strong heads on their shoulders, and the interactions among them are believable. The relationship that emerges between Lacey and Ty is paced well, and I love dialogs in which they engage. Ty challenges Lacey without bullying her, and Lacey returns those challenges with equal grace. In one instance, he asks Lacey to consider her best friend Dean and the reasons he may be bullied at school -- when he suggests that Dean may be gay, at first Lacey denies passionately (because how could someone who is gay also be devout) but in reflecting, she comes around to realize that her best friend is made up of much more than his belief in God. The ah ha moment is not immediate, but when it comes, it really moves Lacey to think. And that's ultimately the point: this is a book about thinking.

What I loved about these characters and this story so much was that it left me with more questions than answers. I felt at peace with how the story progresses, despite how uncomfortable I felt at times with both the assertions Lacey made with complete conviction and the way the adults in particular treated their children and their children's beliefs. So many will see themselves in this position, either right now as teens or as adults thinking back to what it was like to be a teen.

More importantly, there's not a right or wrong answer in this book. The restraint in writing echoes the story itself. Walker embraces the muckiness of religion and the gray areas where no answers exist. She doesn't pick a side and devalue the other, which would have been incredibly easy to do, particularly with the use of the Hell House. Instead, she chooses to offer both sides and let the readers consider ideas from both perspectives. She asks us to use our own intellect and experiences to draw conclusions while along the way begging us to immerse ourselves in both sides of the story. She asks us to think. How can we decide what's right and wrong and be passionate about that belief without being fair and open minded to other possibilities? The truth is we don't need to throw out everything we believe in in order to believe in something else.

My biggest challenge with the book was that it is slower paced and the book's strength really lies in its second half. Some of the dialog and set up felt a little clunky at the beginning, but once the book hits its stride -- I'd say by page 75 or 100 -- these smooth out significantly. Although it bothered me as a reader, I know it's necessary. We have to be put into this world, and for many readers, it's a wholly unfamiliar world of religious devotion. The other reason this is challenging is that these characters are well fleshed; stock characters who serve little more than as puppets to one belief or another would have been easier to write though ultimately unfulfilling.

Although this is a story that focuses on religion, it is not a story about religion -- the ideas here are much more universal and powerful. Pass this book off to fans of Dana Reinhardt, particularly to those who loved The Things a Brother Knows. This book reminded me a lot, too, of Donna Freitas's This Gorgeous Game, which also deals in slight with religion. Without doubt, Small Town Sinners will be a title you want to discuss, and it's one I think teens will connect with and pull a lot of meaningful ideas from. Beware, though: even though it's a clean read, big issues such as abortion, alcoholism, and homosexuality are discussed throughout. They need to be.

Review copy received at ALA Midwinter. Small Town Sinners will be available July 19.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Entwined by Heather Dixon

I'm glad to see bumpits exist in Azalea's world.
In Heather Dixon's debut novel Entwined, Princess Azalea's mother has just died, leaving behind twelve daughters and an emotionally distant husband.  The king grieves for his dead wife but leaves his twelve daughters to their own devices, his only real interaction with them occurring when he institutes a mandatory period of mourning, to last an entire year.  For that year, the girls are not allowed to go outside, they must wear black, they must cover all mirrors, and they are not allowed to dance.  This last requirement is the worst, since dancing is one of their true joys and something they shared with their mother.

The old, ramshackle palace the girls live in has some magic in it, though, and one night, Azalea and her sisters find a secret passage to an underground place where the sun shines and the Keeper, who lives there, allows them to dance all night to their hearts' content.  But the Keeper is more malevolent than he seems, and he has plans for the girls, for the king, and for the kingdom in which they live.

I'm a sucker for fairy tales re-told, and the Twelve Dancing Princesses has been a popular one lately.  It's not one of the best known, so it hasn't been done to death like Cinderella has, but it does present some unique challenges.  For one thing, if you've chosen to write this particular fairy tale, you've automatically saddled yourself with twelve characters.  Making each of these characters distinct from one another without resorting to cliches has got to be a monumental challenge, and authors have attempted it with varying levels of success.

With Entwined, Heather Dixon succeeds at this better than others I've encountered recently.  For one thing, she doesn't take the easy way out and completely marginalize all but one of the princesses.  Azalea is clearly our protagonist, but there are two nice subplots involving the next two eldest princesses.  There's also enough interaction between the sisters that the reader gets an idea of at least some of their personalities, although not all of the sisters are fully realized.  Putting myself in the shoes of the author, though, it makes me slightly panicky thinking about how to make twelve characters three-dimensional in a single debut novel.

One thing I really enjoyed about Entwined was the description of the dances.  I'm not a dancer myself and have always envied those who were able to move with such grace.  Reading Entwined, I was able to see each of the dances in my mind's eye - they're beautiful and have their own more metaphorical magic, in particular the "soul curtsy" which is featured in a pivotal moment in the book.  Dixon's writing shines at these points.

Of course, there were a couple of sticking points.  First and foremost: the story dragged in the first 100 pages or so.  There's a lot of exposition and it seems to take quite awhile before Dixon buckles down and gets to the meat of the story.  It's important to set up the background and establish the character's relationships, but ideally these aspects should be developed over the course of the story, not crammed all into the first section before the real story begins.  Once I was past those first pages, though, I was hooked.

Dixon also tries to do something different with both the magic and the kingdom's government.  This can be risky since the reader doesn't already have a frame of reference to absorb the new information.  The author must be careful to explain such nuances of the world clearly and precisely, otherwise it won't be understandable.  I'm afraid I never really did understand how the magic in Dixon's world worked, and neither did I fully understand how the world's system of government worked (there's their father the king, who has some power but no money, and then there's a prime minister, who appears to have lots of money, and another political party that opposes the king, and it's more than a little confusing and I never did figure it out).  It's clear that Dixon tried to make her world markedly different from the carbon copies seen in fairy tale re-tellings, but she didn't quite succeed.

There were a few other small things that niggled at me, but all in all, Entwined is a good addition to the long list of these types of stories.  There's three (yes, three!) sweet romances and a nicely creepy baddie.  There's no real question how it will end, but the journey there is an enjoyable one, made more enjoyable by the interesting characters and often funny subplots Dixon incorporates.  I read Entwined about the same time as I read Merrie Haskell's very different middle-grade twist on this same fairy tale, The Princess Curse, which publishes in September (and I'll have a review for that one a bit closer to that date).  It's interesting to compare the two, but I admit I'm done with the Twelve Dancing Princesses for awhile.

Copy checked out from my local library.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Giveaway: Paperback Release of The Cinderella Society by Kay Cassidy

One of my favorite under-the-radar releases of 2010 was Kay Cassidy's The Cinderella Society. When sixteen-year-old Jess Parker is invited to join the Cindys, a secret society dedicated to defeating the Wickeds, the mean girls of the world, she is swept into a world of secrets, makeovers, and self-improvement. But when the Wickeds strike back, Jess finds out a bit more about the powers that be behind the Cindys and the other girls who are falling to the wayside in this confrontation, ultimately having to decide whether she herself is meant to be a Cindy. The Cinderella Society is a total girl-power tale that encourages girls, as their tagline says, "to celebrate your strength, embrace your future, be extraordinary."

June 28th marks the paperback release of The Cinderella Society, and Kay has generously offered a signed copy of The Cinderella Society to one lucky reader (US only), along with a special Cinderella Society glass slipper bookmark!

This contest will run until July 12, 2011.

Kay is a great advocate for teen literature and libraries, and is the founder and host of The Great Scavenger Hunt Contest reading program, a 100% free program for teen and youth librarians. This year-round programs features over 200 MG and YA authors who have each created 10-question trivia quizzes for their books. When kids and teens answer these questions and turn the quiz in to their librarians, they are then entered into a contest to win a $50 gift card to the bookstore of their choice (And their librarian doesn't walk away empty handed either!). It's a great, no-cost and low-effort way to get kids reading and to add another program to your library. There are currently over 800 participating libraries across the US and Canada, and the program has been featured in VOYA, School Library Journal Teen, and Publisher's Weekly Children's Bookshelf. Kay funds and runs the entire program herself as part of her Pay It Forward outreach platform to give back to libraries and keep kids reading!

Thanks again to Kay Cassidy for the fantastic giveaway!

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter

In Uncommon Criminals, Ally Carter's sequel to the fun and well-written Heist Society, fifteen-year-old Katarina Bishop is back for another heist.  This time, she's been directed by "Visily Romani" to take a break from returning priceless stolen works of art to their rightful owners to steal the famous Cleopatra emerald, which had been stolen from an excavation in Egypt many years ago.  Visily Romani's messenger tells Kat that the emerald will be given back to an Egyptian museum, and Kat is all too willing to undertake the job, even though the emerald is rumored to be cursed and impossible to steal.  After all, even her Uncle Eddie wasn't able to steal it when he attempted it years before.

But Kat is smart and a very, very good thief, and she sets in motion a heist that is sure to work.  She has Hale with her, of course, as well as Gabrielle and eventually the Bagshaw brothers and Nick.  Things aren't what they seem with the pseudonymous Visily Romani and his messenger, though, and the book quickly takes a turn - Kat and her crew must steal the emerald once more, and also exact a little revenge on someone who conned them.

I really enjoyed Heist Society.  It's the kind of popcorn book that I've always loved - a fun, fast-paced story, snappy dialogue, sarcastic characters who banter with each other endlessly, and a promise that everything will turn out alright in the end.  Nothing about it was terribly realistic, but that's not really why I read most genre fiction anyway.  So, I was excited to get my hands on its sequel and I sped through it in a day.  I enjoyed it a lot, but I had a few gripes.

Uncommon Criminals, while a fun follow-up, feels too slight.  Events happen so quickly that there's hardly any time for the reader to process them, making the twists and turns not as impactful as they should have been.  The crew from the first book are all back, but only Kat and Hale really have any development.  The Bagshaw brothers, Gabrielle, and Nick all make token appearances, but it felt they were only included because it was expected.  Gabrielle, who turned out to be a surprisingly complex character in Heist Society, is here reduced to comic relief.

This is not to say that Uncommon Criminals wasn't a fun read.  It does have its moments.  Carter gives us more tidbits into certain characters: Uncle Eddie's background is illuminated a bit more, Kat and Hale's relationship grows, and the history of the thieving families is expanded upon (very slightly).  The central plotline is certainly entertaining, albeit a bit too breakneck for my taste.  I often complain that thrillers or spy novels written for adults are too long-winded, but Uncommon Criminals could have taken a page (or maybe a hundred pages) from them and given the reader more: more time to understand the heist, more insight into the secondary characters, more of that witty banter and narrative style so prevalent in Heist Society.  

Overall, this is a definite recommend for fans of the first novel, but Carter can do better.

Copy borrowed from my local library.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

YA Contemporary Lit: The Presentation

Unable to make it to Sarah and my's presentation about contemporary ya lit on Sunday at the American Library Association's Annual Conference? Did you attend and want a copy of our presentation?

Look no further!

You can make this full screen, as well as zoom in and out however you want to. And if you have questions or want more information about contemporary ya lit, drop a line. As always, steal our lists as much as you'd like. Just get the word out there about this amazing body of work your teens want to be reading.

* With huge thanks to the wonderful Contemps authors for helping out with making these videos!
** Some of the videos aren't loading how I want them to on the Prezi, but I'll come back and post a link to the videos on YouTube this week. They're worth your time.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Double Take: Shadows in the Water

Check out this double take, wet pavement style.

The Lucky Kind by Alyssa B. Sheinmel: I've reviewed this title before. I really like this cover, despite the fact I don't think it represents the story at all, except for maybe reflecting the quiet nature of the story inside. I like the coloring, and I like the font quite a bit. The Lucky Kind was published in May by Knopf/Random House.

Then I saw this one:

Dry as Rain by Gina Holmes will be published by Tyndale House in September. When I first saw the cover, I thought it looked familiar, but it was different enough not to be a double take. But upon closer look, it is actually the same stock photo, just stretched and cut through the middle by the title and author bar; it was so blown up that the street lamp from the cover above doesn't make it into this cover. You can tell it's the same photo by the way the couple holds their hands, by the umbrella in both images, and by the outfit the guy is wearing in both photos.

I haven't read Holmes's book, but it seems like the image fits with this book a little bit more. Perhaps because these do look like adults and it does give an idea of a book for more mature readers than the Sheinmel book.

I don't think one cover does it better than the other, though I think they so give quite different feelings to each cover with the placement of text and sizing of image. The first gives more insight into environment and offers the idea that place is an important element in the story, whereas the second, focused in more on the couple, offers the idea that the relationship is more important than the environment.

What do you think? Does one do it better?

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Visconti House by Elsbeth Edgar

In Elsbeth Edgar's debut, The Visconti House, fourteen year old Laura Horton lives in a crumbling old mansion in Australia with her parents and her pet cat, Samson.  She loves living there, but the kids at her school consider it to be haunted and tease her for hanging out with "ghosts."  Laura is somewhat ostracized in other ways too: she likes to write (her current project is an illustrated dragon encyclopedia), her parents are always having weird visitors over (although she does love these weird visitors), and socializing with other girls doesn't come easily to her.

Then Leon moves in with his grandmother, who lives next door to Laura.  Leon is considered just as weird as Laura, if not more so, and the kids speculate as to why he doesn't live with his parents.  His father is occasionally around, but his appearance is scruffy and the kids start to spread rumors that he's a criminal.  Leon himself is somewhat odd-looking - he's always a little scraggly - and his attitude is sullen.  He also turns out to be a math whiz, which doesn't endear himself to his peers.  His grandmother is already seen as odd by the other kids, so that doesn't help Leon's situation either.

It's inevitable that Laura and Leon will become friends, although it takes some time, since Laura is desperate to fit in and initially pushes Leon away, not wanting to be ridiculed for being friends with him.  What eventually brings them together is the mystery of Laura's house, which was built by a man named Mr. Visconti in the early 20th century.  Mr. Visconti built the strange but magnificent house as a young man and remained in the town afterward, alone and quietly friendless.  He, too, was seen as odd by the townspeople.  Laura and Leon know this much about Mr. Visconti, but they want to know more - why he built the house in the first place, if he built it for anyone in particular, and why he remained there alone for so long.

The mystery of the house is really just a frame story and isn't the focus of the book.  In researching Mr. Visconti, whose tragic story mirrors Laura's life to some degree, Laura and Leon's friendship (and sweet, semi-romance) blooms and Laura learns that it's OK to be different from everyone else.  The mystery is purely a device whose purpose is to reveal this lesson to Laura, so it doesn't really succeed as much of a mystery in the end.  The clues are pretty obvious and Laura and Leon encounter very few stumbling blocks on their path to the truth.  The book is more concerned with developing the friendship between Laura and Leon, and it's more successful there.

Although the book's protagonist is fourteen, this is really a middle grade book.  The Visconti House is definitely a Book With a Message, and I think it needs a bit of a lighter touch to really appeal to teens (the message is blatantly stated by at least three characters near the end of the book).  For younger kids, however, the overt lesson they are supposed to take away may not interfere so much with their enjoyment of the book.  Many kids can relate to Laura's feeling of alienation from her peers.  Laura wants to fit in at school, but she also really likes her odd house, her family with its strange visitors, and Leon, who no one else seems to like.  I don't have to think too hard to remember how this felt when I was a kid.

Review copy received at TLA.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Display This: Canada and Mexico

Another installment of Display This for this week, and this time, we're taking a trip north and south of the United States -- we're heading to Canada and then down to Mexico. We've already been to Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand. There are tons of books set in these locations, so limiting was difficult, but as in other posts, the parameters include books set primarily in these countries, limiting to first books in a series, limiting to fictional titles, and limiting to one book per author. All of these books are ones available easily in the US, as well. Descriptions come from WorldCat, since there are many titles I've not personally read. As always, feel free to steal my list for your own use (just credit me) and please chime in with other titles that fit the bill.

First stop: Canada!

Boys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking Boots by Abby McDonald: Seventeen-year-old Jenna, an ardent vegetarian and environmentalist, is thrilled to be spending the summer communing with nature in rural Canada, until she discovers that not all of the rugged residents there share her beliefs.

Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel: In 1973, when a renowned Canadian behavioral psychologist pursues his latest research project-- an experiment to determine whether chimpanzees can acquire advanced language skills-- he brings home a baby chimp named Zan and asks his thirteen-year-old son to treat Zan like a little brother.

Maybe Never, Maybe Now by Kimberly Joy Peters: Sixteen-year old Caitlyn wants to forget the abusive relationship with her ex-boyfriend, but she is still dealing with the psychological damage. When she and best-friend Conner become exchange students to Quebec, she thinks this may help her start afresh. But she is still plagued by her fears and insecurities.

Lure by Deborah Kerbel: Max Green's parents have just uprooted their family from Vancouver to the suburbs of Toronto, he has no friends, everybody at his new high school is ignoring him, and he's in love with an older girl who's completely out of his league. When Max discovers a local library rumored to be haunted by ghosts, he's immediately drawn to it. With the help of some cryptic messages, he pieces together the identity of the teenage ghost and the mysterious chain of events that have connected its spirit to the building for over a century.

The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones: After a disturbing freshman year at New York University, Mimi is happy to get away to her father's remote Canadian cottage only to discover a stranger living there who has never heard of her or her father and who is convinced that Mimi is responsible for leaving sinister tokens around the property.

If You Live Like Me by Lori Weber: Cheryl's unhappiness builds with each move as her family travels across Canada while her father does research for a book, and by the time they reach Newfoundland, she is planning her escape, but events cause her to re-examine her feelings.

Bonechiller by Graham McNamee: Four high school students face off against a soul-stealing beast that has been making young people disappear from their small Ontario, Canada, town for centuries.

Mud Girl by Alison Acheson: Aba Zytka Jones lives with her dad in an odd little house that hangs over the Fraser River. Her mom took off a year ago. In his own way, so did her dad. She doesn't fit in, never has, and she has questions.

The Braid by Helen Frost: Two Scottish sisters, living on the western island of Barra in the 1850s, relate, in alternate voices and linked narrative poems, their experiences after their family is forcibly evicted and separated with one sister accompanying their parents and younger siblings to Cape Breton, Canada, and the other staying behind with other family on the small island of Mingulay.

The Edge by Ben Bo: A teenaged gang member accused of various crimes finds redemption working and snowboarding at a ski lodge in the mountains surrounding Canada's Glacier National Park.

Free as a Bird by Gina McMurchy-Barber: Ruby Jean Sharp comes from a time when being a developmentally disabled person could mean growing up behind locked doors and barred windows and being called names like "retard" and "moron." Born with Down's syndrome, Ruby Jean is lovingly cared for by her grandmother. But after Grandma dies when Ruby is eight, her mother takes her to Woodlands School in New Westminster, British Columbia, and never comes back. It's here in an institution that opened in 1878 and was originally called the Provincial Lunatic Asylum that Ruby Jean learns to survive isolation, boredom, and every kind of abuse. Just when she can hardly remember if she's ever been happy, she learns a lesson about patience and perseverance from an old crow.

Tripping by Heather Waldorf: Escaping a dull summer, Rainey Williamson joins a school-sponsored eight-week road trip across Canada. Up for the challenge, Rainey, who has worn an artificial leg since birth, discovers that her long estranged mother is alive and well in British Columbia, directly on the road trip route, and wants to see her.

Now, we're heading south to Mexico!

The Heart is Not a Size by Beth Kephart: Fifteen-year-old Georgia learns a great deal about herself and her troubled best friend Riley when they become part of a group of suburban Pennsylvania teenagers that go to Anapra, a squatters village in the border town of Juarez, Mexico, to undertake a community construction project.

The Goldsmith's Daughter by Tanya Landman: In the golden city of Tenochtitlan, the people live in awe of Emperor Montezuma and in fear of blood-hungry gods. Under an ill-fated sky, a girl is born, facing a life of submission and domestic drudgery. But Itacate has a secret passion for goldwork, forbidden to women, and is forced to disguise her identity to protect herself and her family. When her city is shaken by Cortez's invasion, Itacate challenges fate, culture, and faith by crafting golden statues and pursuing the love of a man who should be her enemy.

Red Glass by Laura Resau: Sixteen-year-old Sophie has been frail and delicate since her premature birth, but discovers her true strength during a journey through Mexico, where the six-year-old orphan her family hopes to adopt was born, and to Guatemala, where her would-be boyfriend hopes to find his mother and plans to remain.

Feathered by Laura Kasischke: While on Spring Break in Cancun, Mexico, high-school seniors and best friends Anne and Michelle accept the wrong ride and Michelle is lost--seemingly forever.

La Linea by Ann Jaramillo: Miguel has dreamed of joining his parents in California since the day they left him behind in Mexico six years, eleven months, and twelve days ago. On the morning of his fifteenth birthday, Miguel’s wait is over. The trip north to the border—la lĂ­nea—is fraught with dangers. Thieves. Border guards. And a grueling, two-day trek across the desert. It would be hard enough to survive alone. But it’s almost impossible with his tagalong sister in tow. Their money gone and their hopes nearly dashed, Miguel and his sister have no choice but to hop the infamous mata gente as it races toward the border. As they cling to the roof of the speeding train, they hold onto each other, and to their dreams. But they quickly learn that you can’t always count on dreams—even the ones that come true.

Heart and Salsa (SASS series) by Suzanne Marie Nelson: Cat Wilcox is going to study abroad for the summer in Mexico with her best friend Sabrina, but Sabrina complicates matters by bringing along her boyfriend.

Shock Point by April Henry: Fifteen-year-old Cassie Streng is determined to expose her stepfather after learning that he is giving a dangerous experimental drug to his teenaged psychiatric patients, but he sends her to a boot camp for troubled teens in Mexico in order to keep her quiet.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Audiosynced: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

I'm not a big nonfiction reader.  I like it in theory, and I often bring stacks of interesting nonfiction titles home with the intention of reading them all, but I'm usually distracted by the latest dystopia or mystery or romance and then the nonfiction books are overdue and I need to return them to the library.

That's why I'm especially glad I brought home Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything on audio.  This is most likely a book that would have languished in my "to read" pile if I had checked out the print version, but the audio proved a delightful way to keep myself entertained on a road trip I took earlier this month.

The basic concept of the book is this: Bill Bryson describes how the universe, and everything in it, came to be.  This is a pretty tall order, but it's precisely because he covers so much in so little space that he manages to keep the lay reader (or listener) interested.  He covers the big bang, evolution, plate tectonics, ice ages, and volcanoes, among a dozen other subjects.  He also talks a lot about the people behind the major discoveries and includes a few funny stories that show just how odd (or just plain human, really) scientists can be.  The book is never dry or boring, but it also doesn't give the reader a full picture on any one subject.  It's a fascinating look at science for non-scientists.

One of the greatest joys of the audiobook experience was Bryson's narration. The book is full of humor, and Bryson's voice lets that shine through.  He speaks deliberately and with a very slight English accent (I may be imagining this, since I know he is American but spends a lot of time in England) that adds interest to the listening.  He also occasionally refers to himself in the text, which makes the fact that he's narrating all the more real.  I also really appreciated that the book was tailored to the listener, not the reader.  By this I mean that whenever the text read "If you're reading this," it was changed to "If you're listening to this."  It's a nice touch that iced the experience for me.

I should mention that I listened to the abridged version, which I normally try to avoid at all costs.  Abridgements are the bane of my audiobook existence and I'm baffled as to why they exist in the first place.  I think this book suffers from the abridgement.  The unabridged version is short in the first place, but abridged it's simply too short (only five discs!).  Bryson skips from one topic to another with almost no transition in many places, and I needed more elaboration at certain points to really satisfy my curiosity.  Perhaps, though, that's also a success of the book: it left me wanting more and feeling even more curious about the world in which we live.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

Paige's family moves from Virginia -- where she's always lived -- to New York City, and suddenly, she's torn from everything she's known. Her life has fallen into a new place, and she's lost any sense of who or what she is. She knows she's an artist, but having that label applied to herself is tough to understand. She doesn't know where she fits into the new scheme of her high school, an urban high school where everyone seems to know exactly who they are and where they fit in. She doesn't want to be the "new girl" forever, but it's tough finding a place to slide into.

Paige pours those feelings into her notebook, one where she's also noted the rules her grandma gave her when it comes to making art. As she begins unraveling her feelings about her new life and about who she is, Paige begins making new friends -- both by accident and by purposeful interaction on her part (though she'd never admit to that). While making these new friends, she begins to understand what her purpose in this new life is, as well as begins to understand that being an artist is part and parcel of who she is. It's how she deals with things, and it's how she processes and understands the world around her.

Page by Paige is a new addition to the slight world of stand alone graphic novels geared toward teen girls. There are no superheroes in here. Instead, it's a fully fleshed story about growing up and about change. It's perhaps most about better understanding who you are as a person and embracing the things about you that make you unique. It's a bit of an artist's manifesto, even. As a reader, I understood everything that Paige said and struggled with when it came to making art and to valuing the role art plays in understanding oneself. I think anyone who has ever done something artistic, something that really requires delving deep inside to express a feeling or a thought or an idea, will relate to Paige easily; there's a real tension between going out and living, sometimes and sitting back and letting life live around you, and Gulledge captures that strongly in both the words she's written and in the illustrations that heighten those words.

The book is structured around the nine rules which Paige's grandmother told her about creating art, and I think that the set up and execution of the book are successful because of this. The rules help Paige process herself and her place in this new, foreign, even exotic world she's entered, and at the same time, they serve as her guidebook to creating meaning in her art. What was extremely smart on Gulledge's part in illustrating the story, though, was not putting all of the rules out there from the beginning. Had she done that, we'd know the whole of Paige's story from the set up; instead, we're given the first three rules in an early illustration, but we're lead through the remaining rules as the story progresses and as we begin to sympathize and urge Paige on in her path to finding who she is.

Characters in this book were well done, and I appreciated that they never swerved into stereotypes. Paige falls into a group of artistic kids, but they're not set up as the strange ones in school, and neither are they outcast or the popular kids. Instead, they're all individuals, and I could keep them apart in my mind. Since the book's told through Paige's point of view, it would have been easy to have these secondary characters fall into a trope, but they didn't -- which is both proof of Paige's ability to grow up and work toward her goals, as well as proof of Gulledge's ability to flesh out individuals quite well.

The illustrations in the book -- done in black and white only -- are unique, and I found them to be strong and in harmony with the text. The details included in the illustrations make it modern, as many of the characters wear t-shirts sporting favorite bands (that are current), and perhaps my favorite little details included seeing what the characters were reading at different points in the story (Paige, for example, delves deep into Y: The Last Man). I found these little details important because they really spoke to an idea Paige brings up in her own art and in the rules she follows: inspiration. It was fun to be right there with her as she sought and found moments of inspiration in the world around her, and again, it makes these things relatable to readers who also find inspiration for their own art all around them. I won't lie: I found the fact Paige has her own treadmill desk one of the highlights of this book for me.

Perhaps my only issue with the graphic portion of this story is that at times it felt very young, given the strength and the wisdom in the text itself. For me, the cover and font used on it speak more to a middle grade readership than a young adult one, and this is not a book for a middle grade audience. Middle school, definitely, but not middle grade.

My biggest challenge with the book, though, is that at times it borders on didactic. The points Gulledge wants to make with readers are important, but they're almost served a little too clearly and obviously in the story. The rules from Paige's notebook work perfectly to service the story's goal, but there are instances throughout the book that these points are hammered home a little too much. As an adult, I found myself a little frustrated with those things being hit on again and again, and I can imagine that might turn some teen readers off entirely. Paige is a quieter character, and she's one who is very internally focused. In no way does this make her dumb or unaware of herself and the path she needs to take to fit in and to understand the role art plays in her life. I think a lot of times characters who are quieter and more focused internally are branded as the kind of characters who need things repeated to them since they're not showing off these lessons or their thoughts out loud or in showy ways; as someone who's had people talk down to me because of my own need to process internally, I was annoyed for Paige that these "big lessons" were repeated and repeated and repeated. At the end, it felt like Paige's coming to terms with herself was too adult-like, too reflective and insightful. It was a little too idealized.

While reading, I spent a lot of time thinking about audience for Page by Paige and actually had little trouble figuring out who'd like this book -- fans of realistic fiction, artists, or anyone who has ever felt like an outcast or experienced a huge change in their life. I read this at the same time I was rereading Siobhan Vivian's Same Difference, and I saw countless parallels between Emily and Paige. In fact, I almost brought Gulledge's book to my teen book group's discussion of Vivian's book because I thought they'd be an excellent pairing. Fans of Liz Gallagher's recent title, My Not-So-Still Life will also find great parallels between the stories and characters.

This is the kind of book you could sell easily to regular fans of realistic fiction, even if they're not usually fans of graphic novels. Fans of Cecil Castellucci's Plain Jane books will also enjoy this one. As I mentioned earlier, this book will work well for middle and high school students, though I wouldn't feel comfortable handing it to middle grade readers. There aren't language issues, but some topical ones that make it more appropriate for those ages. And while I think there are certainly males who will read and relate to this story, I think the audience for Gulledge's book will be primarily female.

If you want more information about the book, want to check out the inspiration for the story, or want to download some of the cool art associated with the book (like Paige's rules shared above), make sure you check out the author's website. There's also an entire blog devoted to just Page by Paige here. For anyone who does art or writing workshops, these look to be great places for ideas and inspiration.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Great YA Blogger Meetup @ ALA Annual in New Orleans

Click to enlarge!

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Friday, June 17, 2011

The Mid-way Point: Our Printz Predictions

It's that time again: Printz award prediction time. This is completely unscientific and founded on little other than our reading this year and some of the hunches we've gathered through starred reviews and word-of-mouth. Last year, we limited ourselves to books published prior to this point in the year only, but this year, we're also pinging titles we have read that may be published later on in the year.

We'd love for you to chime in and offer up your thoughts in the comments. And of course, anything you agree or disagree with, we'd love to hear.

This year, I'm in the rare position of not actually having read three out of the four books that I am predicting for potential Printz titles. Yes, I've read a lot so far this year, many amazing books, too, but not many have leapt out as me as worthy of committee consideration.

At the moment, my front-runners would have to be:

Chime by Franny Billingsley: I haven't read this one yet, although it's high on my list. Many bloggers have gushed about its lush language, fantastical plot, and intriguing main characters. I've also heard that it's a bit weird and slow-moving, but honestly...that sort of thing, combined with utter artistry, could be exactly what the Printz-committee is looking for. Kim reviewed Chime here.

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma: I also haven't read this one. However, Suma's exploration of the pull of sisterly love, mixed with paranormal aspects, is garnering rave reviews. Kim and Kelly reviewed this earlier.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray: I bought this one, but still haven't gotten to it in my pile. Libba Bray is one of my favorite authors, and it would definitely be a feat to win the Printz twice in three years. But her exploration of beauty queens, political dynamics, and competition (set on a desert island) could do it. Beauty Queens is supposedly bizarre and over-the-top....exactly what Bray excels at.

The Dark Horse:

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Septys: I'd probably slot this more in the Morris category, but it could also merit a Printz honor. One of my favorite books so far this year, I reviewed this here. A heart-wrenching exploration of a little known period in history, the deportation of Lithuanian families by the Soviets, this book is touching, affecting, and heartfelt. A well-done historical fiction that portrays an entire period through one girl's experiences.

I have to admit to thinking that so far this year, the field looks a little dim. I haven't read much that's completely blown me away, nor have I read enough starred reviews to be convinced of a book I may not have read. But without further ado, here's my list of potential Printz titles:

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma: I think the language coupled with the incredibly creepy vibe of a well-written and engaging story is what makes this one a Printz contender for me. Easily some of the best prose this year.

Chime by Franny Billingsley: I haven't read this one, though Kim has. It's garnered a ton of starred ratings and a lot of buzz about being award-worthy. I think the cover is pretty atrocious.

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell: This is one that I tried reading at the wrong time but am compelled to go back and try to read again. Blundell's a strong writer, and that alone would give her a Printz-consideration for me. Coupled with rave reviews in a number of sources, I feel this is the strongest contender so far this year.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: Again, I haven't read this one yet (what have I been reading this year?) but it's garnered a lot of positive attention in the reviews. Plus, topically, it's strong and different and a worthy contribution to historical fiction.

Blink and Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones: This story about two kids in a big blackmail scheme recently got a nod from the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. Wynne-Jones got some acclaim for his last novel, The Uninvited, but this particular title seems a little more accessible.

The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow: I adored Sharenow's first novel, My Mother the Cheerleader, but I haven't yet read this one. But the topic combines historical fiction with sports against the Nazi regime's background, and it sounds like one that has huge potential.

And now, my dark horses....

My Beating Teenage Heart by CK Kelly Martin: This is my shot-in-the-dark title. It doesn't come out until September, so of course, now I'm teasing. But this book was utterly breathtaking, combining powerful prose with a compelling plot somewhat reminiscent (but completely different from) Amy Huntley's The Everafter. It's not a contemporary title like Martin's others, but combines a bit of the fantasy element of the afterlife.

Recovery Road by Blake Nelson: I have reviewed this title, and I'll say this is my "out there" title for Printz consideration. It's garnered a couple of starred reviews, though the talk in the blogosphere on this title has been absent. The writing is strong, and though the topic is edgy, I think the approach and set up of this book have the key components of a Printz nod.

Both Kelly and Jen have mentioned Imaginary Girls (which I enjoyed) and Chime (which I did not) as candidates for the Printz already. I feel Imaginary Girls would be a strong choice - it's well written, literary, and has received two starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus. Plus, I liked it a lot.

While I slogged through Chime and don't feel kindly toward it, I've yet to meet someone who isn't in love with it. It's also gotten more starred reviews than I care to count. If I follow the Going Bovine rule of Printz winners where the weird book I didn't like garners the prize, this one would be the winner.

As many of you have noticed, I read mostly science fiction and fantasy, which are wildly popular right now but don't get tons of recognition with the Printz. Last year's winner, Shipbreaker, was an exception in that it is solidly science fiction, but other winners were mostly contemporary, historical, or just a little surreal (Going Bovine is a good example, and it's another reason I think Imaginary Girls has a good shot). So I'll name a couple of my favorite science fiction/fantasy reads of 2011 and explain a little about why they were so good, but I'll also list a few others I haven't read but seem like contenders.

Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan is the first book in a new science fiction series about a group of people on two ships going to colonize a new planet. I talked a little about it here, and I plan on writing a full review closer to publication date. I think this one has a lot going for it: good, tight writing, a fairly unique premise, and some interesting and thought-provoking ideas about religion - how it can be used as a tool for good or ill and how it affects people in power. This last bit makes me think it could be Printz-worthy.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor is my favorite read of 2011 so far. The writing is so gorgeous, it made me realize that I hadn't read a book in quite some time with truly outstanding prose. The heavy themes that usually make an award-winner aren't as visible in this one, so I don't think it's a strong contender, but it does have some things to say about love and war. Plus, Taylor got some National Book Award love a couple years ago for Lips Touch: Three Times, so she's at least on the radar.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray I haven't yet read, but have heard good things. Honestly I can't say that I plan on picking it up, since her books don't have a great track record with me, but I figured it was at least worth mentioning.

Shine by Lauren Myracle, about a girl whose childhood friend was brutally assaulted for being gay, has award-winner written all over it. It addresses a hot button issue right now and also describes a meth-riddled small town, something brought to light earlier by Jennifer Lawrence's (aka Katniss Everdeen) turn in the movie Winter's Bone. This is also one I haven't read.

The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta is the last one I'll list here. Marchetta has gotten Printz love before for Jellicoe Road and this one has received a lot of acclaim. It's the sequel to another book of hers, Saving Francesca, so that may hurt its chances.

What do you think of our picks? Are there any books we missed?

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