YA Books With Animal Best Friends

A Book List In Honor of National Love Your Pet Day!

by REBECCA, February 19, 2014

Tomorrow (Feb 20th) is National Love Your Pet Day! Yeah, I know these things aren’t “real” in the strictest sense, but it’s such a perfect opportunity to celebrate my favorite animals of YA. While there are a great number of animals in children’s books—Charlotte’s WebThe Velveteen Rabbit, etc.—and in classic “coming of age fiction”—Where the Red Fern GrowsOld Yeller—there aren’t as many in contemporary YA. Here, then, are some truly delightful instances of loving your pet in YA lit! (All descriptions from Goodreads.)

Meeting Chance Jennifer Lavoie

Meeting Chance, Jennifer Lavoie

Scarred physically and emotionally from a dog attack at age nine, Aaron Cassidy has spent the last seven years breaking out in a cold sweat at the mere sound of a bark in the distance. Days after he receives his driver’s license, he decides to challenge his bone-deep fear once and for all.

Volunteering at the Happy Endings Animal Foundation gives Aaron a new sense of purpose. Here he’ll face his fears and learn to love man’s best friend. When an abused pit bull with scars mirroring his own arrives at the shelter, Aaron cannot even be in the same room without lapsing into his familiar, paralyzing terror. But as he gets to know the wounded animal, and the two learn to trust again, Aaron finds that sometimes all you need is a little . . . Chance.

My full review of Meeting Chance is HERE.

Starting from Here Lisa Jenn Bigelow

Starting From Here, Lisa Jenn Bigelow

Sixteen-year-old Colby Bingham’s heart has been broken too many times. Her mother has been dead for almost two years, her truck driver father is always away, her almost girlfriend just dumped her for a guy, and now she’s failing chemistry.

When a stray dog lands literally at her feet, bleeding and broken on a busy road, it seems like the Universe has it in for Colby. But the incident also knocks a chink in the walls she’s built around her heart. Against her better judgment, she decides to care for the dog. But new connections mean new opportunities for heartbreak. Terrified of another loss, Colby bolts at the first sign of trouble, managing to alienate her best friend, her father, the cute girl pursing her, and even her dog’s vet, who’s taken Colby under her wing. Colby can’t start over, but can she learn how to move on?

My full review of Starting From Here is HERE and our interview with the delightful Lisa Jenn Bigelow is HERE.

Claws Mike and Rachel Grinti

Claws, Mike and Rachel Grinti

In a contemporary fairytale as irresistible as catnip, one girl discovers that some magic cuts deep. Emma’s sister is missing. Her parents have spent all their savings on the search. And now the family has no choice but to live in a ramshackle trailer park on the edge of the forest, next door to down-and-out harpies, hags, and trolls. Emma wonders if she’ll ever see Helena, and if she’ll ever feel happy, again. Then she makes a friend. A smooth-talking, dirty-furred cat named Jack. He’s got a razor-sharp plan to rescue Emma’s sister. He just wants one small favor in return . . .

Tessa’s complete review of Claws is HERE.

Grasshopper Jungle Andrew Smith

Grasshopper Jungle, Andrew Smith

Ok, so Grasshopper Jungle is about animals (bugs) that we do not want to be best friends with, but there is also a dog friend who we do love, and also there’s this picture of my cat with the book that I meant to put in the post where I reviewed Grasshopper Jungle but forgot, and so I must include it. My complete review is HERE.

The Scorpio Races Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

My complete review of the amazing The Scorpio Races is HERE.

Harry Potter J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling

SO many animal best friends here (sometimes literally—Catmione, anyone?)! You’ve got Hedwig, Errol, Crookshanks, and Scabbers, of course, but also Mrs. Norris, Buckbeak, and the rest of Hagrid’s vast menagerie. So, so many.

The Golden Compass Philip Pullman

The Golden Compass, Phillip Pullman

When Lyra’s friend Roger disappears, she and her dæmon, Pantalaimon, determine to find him. The ensuing quest leads them to the bleak splendour of the North, where armoured bears rule the ice and witch-queens fly through the frozen skies—and where a team of scientists is conducting experiments too horrible to be spoken about. Lyra overcomes these strange terrors, only to find something yet more perilous waiting for her—something with consequences which may even reach beyond the Northern Lights.

Gah, dæmons!

Straydog Kathe Koja

Straydog, Kathe Koja

A female collie mix, so beautiful, all gold and white and dirty; she’s in the last cage on the aisle, curled up quiet, watching everything—but when I get too close she goes completely crazy, biting at the bars, herself, anything in reach, until I back off and away. Her growl’s like ripping metal, jagged, dangerous, and strong . . . Don’t mess with me, that growl says. I may be in a cage but I can still bite.

Rachel is happiest when she’s volunteering at the animal shelter, especially after she meets the feral collie she names Grrl: they’re both angry and alone. When a teacher encourages her to write about the dog, Rachel finds another outlet for her pain and frustration. Writing about Grrl is easy. But teaching Grrl to trust her is a much tougher task. And when Griffin, the new boy in school, devises a plan to bring Grrl home, Rachel finds that the dog isn’t the only one who must learn to trust.

Sabriel Garth Nix

Sabriel, Garth Nix

Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death—and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own destiny.

Did I miss your favorite YA animal best friend? Tell me about it in the comments. In the meantime, here’s my cat sticking her tongue out at me while crouched in the special space I left her on the bottom shelf of my one rainbow-organized bookshelf:

Dorian Gray!

 

 

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Contemporary YA for Dog Lovers

A Review of Meeting Chance by Jennifer LaVoie

Bold Strokes Books, 2013

Meeting Chance Jennifer Lavoie

by REBECCA, December 23, 2013

Y’all, it was an apocalyptic 67 degrees here in Philly yesterday, so I thought I’d go with a summer book for today’s review, even though the weather called for a list of Snow Day Reads a mere week ago.

Aaron Cassidy was attacked by a dog when he was a kid, leaving him with visible scars and a deep-seated phobia of dogs. After he gets his driver’s license, though, he decides to conquer his fear by volunteering at the local animal shelter. There, he meets two new friends: Finn, a volunteer who supports Aaron when his other friends have ditched him, and Chance, a pit bull whose scars mirror Aaron’s own. With Finn’s help, Aaron sets about overcoming his fears and learning that sometimes the things we fear are the things that we need the most.

At base, Meeting Chance is a really sweet book about a guy learning to overcome a fear and have compassion for what caused that fear. When Aaron first shows up at the animal shelter even the sound of a dog barking sends him into fits of terror. Little by little, fellow volunteer (and crush) Finn gets Aaron comfortable around puppies and able to be in the same room with dogs. When the police drop off a pit bull that they rescued from being attacked by other dogs, Aaron reacts with fear at first, but quickly identifies with the dog, who he names Chance, and comes to love love love him.

Andy Squared Jennifer LavoieSo, on that level, Meeting Chance succeeds. But that’s not quite enough to sustain a novel-length read, and Meeting Chance feels rather thin. This is something that I’ve found with Bold Strokes Books‘ young adult publications in general. Still, Jennifer Lavoie’s first book, Andy Squared, although the exact same length (a short 264 pages), had better character development and thus felt much more substantial.

For example, there is a sub-plot that involves Aaron’s relationship with his friends. Aaron came out to his parents and friends a while ago, and while his folks didn’t give him any grief about being gay, his two best friends were pretty freaked out and they haven’t been close ever since. Soon after Aaron starts volunteering, one of his ex-buds begins to bully one of the other kids in Aaron’s gay-straight alliance and rejects Aaron explicitly. Lavoie uses this situation to draw a parallel between Aaron getting over his fear of dogs and Aaron’s friends getting over their freaked-outness about him being gay. Aaron’s friends aren’t very well-drawn characters, though, so, in addition to the parallel plot feeling a bit contrived, I found myself hoping that Aaron would just dump them because, homophobia aside, they were both boring and one was a jerk.

But I think it’s really a question of categorization; that is, I think Meeting Chance is simply better suited for a younger audience. If I think of it as a book for high school freshman instead of an audience that’s the same age as Aaron and Finn (a junior and a senior) then it’s more successful. Finn was a more developed character, and the inner workings of the shelter were interesting. Overall, a sweet read for a young reader who loves dogs.

readalikes

Starting From Here Lisa Jenn Bigelow

 

Starting From Here by Lisa Jenn Bigelow (2012). Colby’s mom died two years ago, her girlfriend just dumped her, and her long-haul trucker dad is never home. When a dog is hit by a car right in front of her, Colby rushes to save it, and realizes that even though she’s afraid to have her heart broken again, maybe loving someone else is exactly what she needs. My full review of Starting From Here is HERE and our interview with author Lisa Jenn Bigelow is HERE.

Vintage Veronica Erica S. Perl

Vintage Veronica by Erica S. Perl (2010). Like Aaron, Veronica doesn’t have any friends and is about to learn some lessons about life and herself through her summer job. My full review is HERE.

 

procured from: I received an ARC this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Meeting Chance by Jennifer Lavoie is available now.

Down but not meowt: Claws by Mike and Rachel Grinti

clawsgrinti

Claws

Mike and Rachel Grinti

Scholastic, 2012

review by Tessa

Characters

Emma Vu

Helena Vu

Mr. & Mrs. Vu

Jack the Magic-less Cat

Hook

One day Emma’s older sister Helena is around and life is happy. Then Helena goes missing, and her family is quickly losing all its money in trying anything to find her – including associating with crags, or magical creatures, a culturally-shunned segment of the population. It isn’t long before Emma takes advantage of her parents’ distracted and stressed out state to accept the help of cats in order to pursue her own investigations.

UK cover!

UK cover!

Worldview

So, unfortunately I haven’t had time lately to read much middle grade fantasy so I’m not even going to try to couch my comments in relation to the field as a whole. I’m just going to tell you why Claws grabbed me.

It’s set in a world where magic is known but not socially accepted, except by excitable teenagers who watch a show called Gnomebots, read Tiger Beat style magazines about the glamorous (literally) lifestyle of fairies, and read dubious information about the magical world on CragWiki. However, most people avoid crags and, therefore, Emma’s first encounters with them are a little scary and not what she expected. The book opens with Emma and her parents moving into a decrepit house next to the big forest that took over a human city some years ago. Crags live near there, but most humans have relocated. Emma’s parents have had no luck with normal policework in finding Helena, her father has lost his business, and he’s ready to try the magical underground for any information on his missing daughter.

Emma finds that her next door neighbors are a boring snake-man who has a lecture for everything and a hag who has had all of her teeth pulled so she won’t eat any more children – doomed to a life of unfulfilled hunger- but that doesn’t stop her from trying to lure Emma into her house.

magic cat photo by flickr user SuziJane

magic cat photo by flickr user SuziJane

Pretty much immediately, Emma finds that a cat has been living in her family’s new house, and he doesn’t intend to stop doing so. Cats are magical creatures and can talk in this world, and this cat, Jack, has done something to get him kicked out of his pride. But he also has a way to transfer the pride’s power to Emma. He wants her to do this, and in return, he’ll help her find Helena.

I loved reading a good fantasy grounded in reality that didn’t exalt magic but still made it exciting, dangerous, and fun. Each crag that Emma meets has his or her own personality, and the crag world, apart from the class tensions between it and humans, has clear tensions between creature groups and within peer groups. The Grintis pack all of this effortlessly into 250 pages. The reader doesn’t have to work to see it happening, but it’s not explained in expository dialogue, either (thank goodness).  The facts that are presented straightforwardly come in quotes from CragWiki at the beginning of every chapter, and serve to deepen the world.

Does this book fulfill its intentions?

Claws hit a sweet spot for me, readingwise. Emma doesn’t hesitate very long before accepting Jack’s deal. I could easily see the book veering off in a much different alternate-future direction, where it spends the first book with Emma hemming and hawing about her decision, in order to stretch out and become a trilogy.  Instead Emma goes for it. In a sense she has nothing much to lose – her friends at school have turned against her now that she lives in an undesirable area, and she’s lonely all the time – she misses her sister and her parents are fully preoccupied and brokenhearted for the same reason. But I feel like she also decides to accept Jack’s offer of the Pride Heart because it’s exciting. I’d be willing to bet that most 12 year olds have an innate sense of their own impending destiny – who among us wouldn’t have accepted the chance to assume the source of power for a pride of magical cats? (Cat-allergic peeps aside.)

My cat is obviously magic.

My cat is obviously magic.

Once her decision is made, Emma is set up for a crash course in Adventure and Split Second Decisions, and after a few false starts it seems she’s well-suited for it. I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone, but I will say that the end set-piece, which takes place in a faery-run high rise in the human downtown, is a particularly well-done example of the ways in which the faerie can be simultaneously attractive and deeply, primally scary. It involves something called eye-puppets.

In addition, Claws was refreshing because it provided intrigue and a personal-growth story with real emotion and imagination, and, because of its target market, had none of the love triangle or sexy urban werewolvery that has become so tiresome to me, even secondhand from reading reviews. I could read it and wholeheartedly enjoy it in the moment as a grown lady, and also think about how much I would have loved it as a younger person.

Disclosure/Digressions

– I met Rachel Grinti at a local conference where I was co-presenting something and she gave me a copy of Claws for free cuz she’s nice. I’m so glad that she did.

-Emma’s parents are Vietnamese-American and when she’s feeling tired of her new family life as The Girl With the Missing Sister and worn down by her new cat magic responsibilities she reminisces about the better times when her family would make homecooked meals. I think it’s safe to say that this is the only book I’ve read that could make me want to eat banana pudding.

Readalikes, as far as imaginative worldbuilding goes.

KieselWarTeachersKids

The War Between The Pitiful Teachers and the Splendid Kids by Stanley Kiesel

The world of this book isn’t strictly magical, it’s just weird and surreal and things matter of factly happen that you as a reader know are totally crazy but you don’t care because it has hooked you with its very weirdness. A girl eats a janitor and it blew my mind that that could even happen in a book.

how-to-ditch-your-fairy

How to Ditch Your Fairy  by Justine Larbalestier

The fairies in this book are very much fairies and not faeirie as in Claws, but Larbalestier brings the reader into her sort of complicated world–where everyone has an invisible fairy that bestows specific luck or powers onto their human, and it’s luck of the draw whether you get a good one or a useless one, or just a really annoying one–with ease.

In Which Tessa and Rebecca Compose a Poem in Scotland!!!

Today (now yesterday) we went to an amazing place: Cramond, a seaside village outside of Edinburgh. There, we walked to Cramond Island, which can only be reached during low tide. Unfortunately Thankfully, we were not stranded on the island where we would meet some reclusive Highlander who had come to the island because there was a price on his head . . . nope, that didn’t happen even a little bit. But it was still beautiful and amazing. And after our trek, sea-sprayed and sandy and quite chilled, we stumbled into the Cramond Inn, where we had drinks and overheard the bartender, who was, like, fourteen, tell another patron that the place had been a pub for 400 years, and that the building was even older. Yowza.

Cramond

Anyhoo, befuddled by (one) drink (each) and sea-fresh air, we composed the following ridiculous poem as an ode to our Scotland trip so far. We traded off line by line until we simply needed to stop and buy salt and vinegar crisps so we could make it to the bus back to Edinburgh. So, here you go. We’ll be back with more actual book-related things soon. If you feel like you want to nominate this poem for a Nobel prize or something, we don’t mind. Really, we’re just in it for the art.

Oh, Aye:

An Exquisite Corpse Style Poem from a 400 Year Old Inn in Cramond, Scotland,

by Tessa and Rebecca

Down the close, the cracks get smaller,
crazes cleaving like cauliflower.
 
If our muscles with bubbles were carbonated,
we’d float up ourselves, kilted & wig-pated.
 
A beer, a cider, a winter beach or
the terror of some long walled-up creature?
 
Old men’s speech like moss ribbons curled
up on themselves, clods dropping off the bottom when their laughs unfurl.
 
The tide comes in, the gulls all cotton,
but all I see is a muddy dog-bottom.
 
If we’re wet, we’ll shake ourselves free of it ’til we’re all dog-sweat
and a double dog body branch to signify the tree of it.
 
Where’s your shuffle? The muscle now barnacle-striated,
young pip-pip birds turn their heads without knowing how they were created.
 
On a tie-dyed winter crumble beach
that high nor low tide ever reaches.
 
The bus turns to the side, promising a crunch.
You can’t see the front, don’t know what’s open for lunch.
 
But don’t retreat, don’t have a panic,
it has blown you oceanic.

 

You’re welcome!!!

Then, Tessa drew a picture of her current hero, James Boswell, whose diaries she’s obsessed with. I thought he looked like he needed to be wearing daisypants, so I added some daisies to his pants:

James "J-BOZ" Boswell

After that piece of literary history was composed, we went to catch the bus back to Edinburgh and met the biggest cat ever! We named it Cramond (obviously) and pet it a lot.

Cramond!

See you stateside . . .

Cat Break!

I was away this weekend, comicking it up at SPX 2012.

I guess Turkey missed me because whenever I tried to write anything on the laptop, this happened:

cat interference

So while I take a break to hang out with my cat, you can investigate some of the talented people and the art they make that I got at the Expo.

I didn’t have enough cash to buy everything that I wanted to, so this is just a small selection. But there’s a whole list on the SPX site to check out.

Hellen Jo / Jin & Jam No. 1 : A tale of small delinquencies and new friendship in Northern California.

Steve Wolfhard / Turtie Needs Work : A small turtle tries out different jobs to heartbreakingly cute/funny degrees. (Reminded me of the humor in the Marcel the Shell videos) (published by Koyama press, who had so many delicious things to buy, including these mysterious and beautiful Canadians and this wonderfully inventive with a twist of grotesque Canadian.)

Ines Estrada / Ojitos Borrosos : indie comics en español!

Katie Omberg / Gay Kid : a rougher, more sketchy style of minicomic about growing up gay.

I met Nate Powell! He was so nice. And I bought Year of the Beasts, his collaboration with the author Cecil Castellucci, so I hope I can review it here soon.

Miao,

Tessa

Movie Review: A Cat In Paris

A Review of A Cat In Paris (or, Une vie de chát), written and directed by Alain Gagnol & Jean-Loup Felicioli (2010)

A Cat in Paris

By REBECCA, September 3, 2012

Let’s get four things straight: I love Paris. I love cats. I love noir. I love animation.

A Cat in Paris

So, naturally, when I heard that A Cat In Paris, an animated noir film about a Parisian cat burglar (yes, literally, ha ha, let’s get it over with), my thoughts ran along the lines of, YES! Besides, it was nominated for an Oscar for best full-length animated film and won scads of other awards and all that malarkey.

A Cat in ParisIt’s a sweet concept: Zoé, a young girl who has been mute since her father was killed the year before, has an adorable cat named Dino, who is her constant companion during the day. After Zoé is asleep, though, Dina scarpers across a few rooftops and in through the window of Nico, who he accompanies on burglaries around Paris. Zoé’s mother, Jeanne, is a police superintendent and is trying to catch the man who killed her husband with the transportation of a rare artifact. When Zoé decides to follow Dino one night, she has a run-in with this bad guy and his goons, is kidnapped, and must be rescued by—who else?—Dino and Nico.

Only clocking in at about an hour, A Cat In Paris is a charming cartoon-noir (or perhaps more like cartoon gris—it’s really pretty tame) that has all the elements of being awesome: awesome kitty, cute kid, baddies, an “unlikely” hero, the rooftops of Paris, and, of course, the gargoyles of Notre Dame.

A page from God's Trombones, illustrated by Aaron Douglas

A page from God’s Trombones, illustrated by Aaron Douglas

And, folks, the movie is gorgeous. The animation style is kind of 1930s silhouettes in flickery colored pencil drawing . . . sort of Aaron Douglas meets Jacques Tardi meets Matisse meets a New Yorker cartoon. Only moving. And the movement is pretty awesome: blocky human figures contrast with a fluid style of movement as cat and humans alike parkour across rooftops, through windows, up drainpipes, and over treetops.

So, then, what kept me from totally losing my mind over A Cat In Paris when, by all rights, I should be drenching you in squee? AMERICA, that’s what. That’s right: this was an American version, overdubbed in English. And, okay, I get it; little kids can’t read subtitles—but, jeez, what a buzzkill. This was a French film, set in an extremely Parisian Paris (Rue Mouffetard), with French music, French food, and . . . French! Only, you heard Marcia Gay freaking Harden and Matthew Modine’s voices overdubbed!

The Arctic Marauder Jacques TardiFirst of all, the English script was trite, and I wish that if I couldn’t have seen the French version then it had just been a silent film, because the animation was soooo gorgeous and it really didn’t need dialogue at all. Second of all, the acting was  wooden and awful. (Bonus awful, you’ll hear Nico voiced by Steve Blum, a voice actor who you might recognize as the pipes of such characters as Wolverine in the X-Men tv series, Beetlemon in Digimon, Spike from Cowboy Bebop, and about every deep voice in the Lord of the Rings video games, under various names—not that I’m saying he’s a bad voice actor; just that he’s as wooden and voice-over-y as Marcia Gay Harden in A Cat In Paris).

A Cat in ParisThat aside, though, it was mostly pretty delightful. As I mentioned, the animation is awesome; Dino, the cat, is totally adorable, and Zoé is pretty cute herself; the action is fun, and doesn’t take itself too seriously; and the music is great. There is a small uncomfortably borderline-racist moment involving the transmutation of an African statue into a King Kong-esque figure, and the baddies are a bit buffoonish, but overall, it’s a solidly good animated film. And, I’m sure when they release the French version, it’ll be all the better.

A Cat in Paris

So, without further ado, I’ll give you what you’ve obviously been waiting for: pictures of my cat, Dorian Gray, and Tessa’s cat, Turkey. They are cuter than Dino, of course, if perhaps not as . . . resourceful.

Turkey!

Turkey!

More Turkey!

Dorian Gray!:

Dorian Gray!

More Dorian Gray!

You’re welcome!

Here is the preview for A Cat In Paris, properly back in French:

 

So, what are your favorite animated films? Your favorite cats?

eat some young adult literature with us!

Who are we and why are we here to nerd out about young adult literature?  We shall now interview each other to answer these and other questions.

Rebecca: Tessa, on a scale of 1 to 18 how much does it piss you off when people call you Tess?

Tessa makes a dopey face at a holiday party, wearing old glasses and old bangs.

Tessa: I’m taking this to mean 1 is Super Happy and 18 is Shaking with Rage.  When people call me Tess it is mildly annoying, and I’d put it at a 9.  After all, it’s only one extra syllable. And there’s something about the way people say “Tess” that makes them sound fake-friendly, like they’re trying to ingratiate themselves with me in order to sell me something.

On the other hand, my dad calls me “Tess” and my mom got her inspiration for my  name from Tess of the D’Urbervilles, so I really have no basis to be pissed off.

TB: Rebecca, you are very firmly a Rebecca to me. Is that how you see yourself? Would you ever be a Becca?

.

RP-G: I am very firmly a Rebecca to myself, too. A dear friend started calling me Becca in 6th or 7th grade, because I gave her a nickname. She was the only one who ever did it. Then, when we started high school together, a few people overheard her call me that and picked it up. But it was brief, and it always felt like a nickname, never a real name. I don’t like Becca, also, because when I was little I read this book called Get Lost, Becka, and we had a book-on-tape of it so I listened to it over and over, and all I can hear is the older sister in the book saying, nastily, “get lost, Becka” in this really snooty voice. Lots of people call me RP-G, though.

RP-G: Tessa, why did you want to write about young adult novels, specifically?
 

TB: In a happy turn of luck, I work as a young adult librarian here in Pittsburgh.  My official title is Teen Librarian (which is problematic in that it implies that I am a teen, not that I work for the library making it more fun for teens to come there).  This means that I read a lot of YA and YA reviews, and I like to talk about it.  Specifically, I like to talk about it with you, Rebecca, because I find your opinions edifying.

And I’ve found that many of my friends aren’t aware of the depth and breadth of YA, and they don’t know what YA means.  So now I’m going to have a tool with which to spam them with the knowledge.

TB: Rebecca, I would ask the same of you.  What turned you onto YA?  Why do you want to write about it?
RP-G: I love YA books because:

1. For one, I am an unabashed escapist in my reading, so I particularly love YA fantasy and sci fi. There is just such a day-before-winter-break feeling about a really good YA adventure!

2. So many YA books are about the protagonist discovering something important about herself—a desire, a hidden truth, an unacknowledged weakness or strength. Many critics tend to lump these things into “The Coming Of Age” monolith. Rather, I think, discovering or acknowledging important things about ourselves is actually something we should all strive for at all times. So, I love YA fiction because it shows characters who are brave enough (and not so stolidly set in their ways) that they can make big changes, take risks, become different, better. There’s something about reading those stories that gives me a real charge, and makes me want to do the same.

3. Finally, some of the most innovative work with genre is being done in YA fiction. As a committed genre reader, I have found the YA fiction of the last five or ten years more exciting than books marketed to an adult audience.And I want to write about YA books, specifically, because I think YA fiction is unique in the way it’s appreciated. There are so many readers (of all ages) who read YA fiction purely for enjoyment and escapism, and talk about it for fun and with such delight, and I want to be a part of it. I don’t mean that we, its fans, are uncritical or unthinking; just that the approach to YA fic feels to me more generous than the approach to many genres of “adult” fiction or literary fiction.

RP-G: Do you have a favorite YA novel? Or, a YA novel that was particularly influential to you as a kid? Or an adult?

TB: For real, I hate picking favorites. It’s like Sophie’s Choice if Sophie was also the Old Lady Who Lived in Shoe and Had So Many Favorite Books She Didn’t Know What to Do.  This is a pretty obvious answer, but the most influential thing in my life when I was a kid was being able to go to the library and look at whatever I wanted.  It sometimes resulted in me reading stuff that was way over my head, but it gave me an immense sense of freedom and access to curiosity, so I could chill out with Paula Danziger or read about leeches, or go hog wild on the Mary Higgins Clark–which I did, so as a result I’m catching up on all the classic YA I missed then in my career today.

was pretty devoted to the Chronicles of Narnia, though. If I was forced to give you a favorite, that would be a strong contender. I would sit in my room and stare at the old wallpaper, hoping that it was secretly a print of Narnian plants and would someday magically transport me there.

TB: Rebecca, what was the dorkiest thing that you ever did in conjunction with your favorite childhood books?
 
RP-G: Well, I just asked my sister what she thought the answer to this question was and, of course, she immediately rattled off a number of things that she said were really dorky. But . . . um . . . I didn’t think any of them were that dorky. She said, “well, yeah, that’s why you’re a dork.”
 
So:
1. I dressed up as Harriet the Spy for Halloween. When I was a junior in college. You remember.

2. For an entire month, I cooked food that was mentioned in books (many of which were YA) and then, as you know, I wrote blog posts about them.

3. I’m writing a blog about them. Right. Now.See, those aren’t dorky, right? Right? Um, right . . . ?

RP-G: Tessa, what do you think is the biggest misconception that the general public has about YA books?

TB: Just yesterday I read a review of Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler & Maira Kalman, and the reviewer had the gall to say that “the book is so good at capturing what it feels like to be a jilted 16-year-old girl that it seems almost wasted on its young-adult audience.”  That’s the biggest bee in my bonnet: the idea that teenagers don’t deserve or somehow can’t understand well-written books.  If anything, teens need MORE well-written books that can accurately mirror their vulnerable and raw emotions.

I also hate the very concept that there’s one single rubric with which to measure what is well-written.  Adults read for escapism as much as young adults, and each are willing to overlook a weaker part of a book because they’re enjoying a stronger part (e.g. a book with terrible descriptions & dialogue but a great plot).

So, as a remedy to my complaint, I think more adults as well as more young adults should read more YA books, because it’s seriously the best thing out there.  It’s so easy to read across genres in YA, and the themes are so universal that it’s immediately immersive and appealing to the reader, giving so many more access points and chances to find something new to read and be excited about.

TB: So, what do you, Rebecca, think is the biggest misconception out there about YA lit?

RP-G: Like you, I think that it is a huge misconception that teenagers are uncomplicated or unself-reflective and that therefore YA fiction is simple, or when it’s complicated it’s lost on teenagers.I think this also feeds into the misconception about non-teen readers of YA fiction that we are dissatisfied with our adult lives and wish that we could have a do-over and be teenagers again. That we’re only interested in swoony first kisses in the band room or getting a letter that admits us to Hogwarts. Well, okay, I mean, if the letter came tomorrow . . .The point: for me, YA is a loose genre, not an age group, and certainly not a psychological yardstick for maturity. It contains multitudes, so generalizations about it are not terribly useful.

RP-G: Tessa, you are a librarian; is there a book that you’ve recommended to young adults more than any other?

TB: Not really–if someone comes to me with a reader’s advisory question it’s usually geared to what kind of stuff they’re already reading so I follow their lead on it.  That being said, if I can I will always recommend M.T. Anderson’s books, and I’ve been pushing Divergent by Veronica Roth as something to tide people over with when they’re waiting for The Hunger Games.

And I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels, so those always come to the front of my mind.But mostly people want to walk away with a book in their hand so I stick to what’s on our shelves, which is not always what comes to the front of my mind.

TB: Rebecca, how does reading YA complement being a PhD?  Do you ever find yourself deconstructing Anne of Green Gables, for example?

RP-G: Actually, grad school is what got me back on the YA train after years of it being off my radar. As you know, before grad school I read fiction constantly. Then, when I started grad school, where I was reading difficult texts for like twelve hours a day, it was hard for me to take a book to bed and read to unwind. I had the horrible, horrible fear that going to grad school for literature was ruining books for me, and if that was the case then I would obviously have to drop out, because it totally wasn’t worth it. So, I started re-reading my favorite authors from when I was a kid—S.E. Hinton, Susan Cooper, Aidan Chambers—and found that YA fiction was exactly what I needed. It was so completely different than what I was reading for school, and it had attached to it only warm and delicious feelings.

As for deconstructing Anne of Green Gables, while I like nothing more than a knock-down, drag-out dispute about a book, or a full-on kvell session, I usually don’t have the impulse to think about YA fiction the way I might if I had my PhD scrappy cap on. I was recently teaching Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, “Against Interpretation,” and found my feelings on YA fiction very much in sympathy with its luminous final line: “in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.”

TB: Rebecca, does your adorable cat ever impede your reading?
 
RP-G: Yes! Sometimes she rubs her head so hard against the corner of a book that she pushes it out of my hand. More often, though, she will be sitting on my lap while I’m reading and I’ll really have to pee, or I’ll finish the book, but I won’t want to get up because she’s sprawled so adorably, so I’ll just sit there with her pressing right on my bladder and, most likely, start the reading the book from the beginning again until she decides she’s done with me and leaves.

Rebecca’s cat, Dorian Gray

Tessa feels compelled to add this photo of her cat, Turkey, to demonstrate that he, too, is adorable.

RP-G: What is your favorite color? Follow-up question: if you see a book with a beautiful cover in this color do you need to buy it?

TB: My favorite color is moss green.  It used to be blue when I was growing up but that was only because my sister had claimed green and I felt it was inappropriate to have the same favorite color (much like ordering dinner with the family and feeling that no one can repeat). Once my sister matriculated into college, however, I realized that I really did prefer green to all other colors.I limit my book buying to books I’ve already read and know that I want to re-read. Working in a library has freed me from many feelings of need as far as book purchasing, because I know I can probably get it at work and pre-screen.  And then I won’t have thousands of books to stuff into my apartment or move around.I am more attracted to books with a nice pop of green, though.It may be more accurate to say I judge books with gradient features more harshly than books with clean design.

TB: What’s the best thing to eat whilst reading?

RP-G: Cinnamon toast.

TB: Oooh, that’s a good one. How do you feel about books that make you cry?  Manipulated? Or moved?

RP-G: I actually love books that make me cry. Mostly because I don’t cry much in my normal life and so it gets saved up, so crying at books is like a tear-drain. That makes me sound really in need of help. But, yeah, even when I know I’ve been manipulated to cry I still like the crying itself. Blatant manipulation might make me lose respect for the book in the morning, though.

 TB: I totally agree. What a relief!
 
RP-G: It is a relief. Now we can be friends and write about books together!
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