My Top Ten Picks for GGNT 2015

by Tessa

Friends, I’m going to post my Top Ten from the nominations list which is posted on the ALA page.

However! After seeing a picture of the committee with their top ten picks, it seems that the ALA list of current nominations was not the final nominations list, because there are books on the official top ten that are NOT on the ALA list. Such as: Trillium, Seconds, In Real Life, Through the Woods, and that book that Thomas is holding that I don’t recognize.

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This is disappointing to me as a lover of order and detail, and as a blogger who wanted to cover all of the nominations. This is how I feel:

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On the other hand, I’m happy that Through the Woods is there, because I was wondering why it hadn’t made the list. It’s definitely one of my top ten books I read last year.

So with my disappointment registered, here are my Top Ten, from the information that I have at hand, which is not complete, in no particular order:

1. Through the Woods, Emily Carroll

2. Beautiful Darkness, Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoet

3. El Deafo by Cece Bell

4. Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood by Nathan Hale

5. Moonhead and the Music Machine by Andrew Rae

6. Ms. Marvel V.1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona

7. This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

8. Tomboy by Liz Prince

9. Above the Dreamless Dead edited by Chris Duffy

10. Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley

 

Overall, I thought that 52 of the 81 listed nominations were “great”, with 40 of those being really great.

 

Keep your eye on the ALA site to see an update on the final list… if they remember to update it.

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Holy Nerd-Con Love, Batman! How to Repair a Mechanical Heart

A Review of How to Repair a Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis

Self-published, 2012

How To Repair A Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis

by REBECCA, June 3, 2013

Friends, it is my pleasure to announce that the author of How to Repair a Mechanical Heart, the lovely J.C. Lillis, will join us on Wednesday for an interview and a GIVEAWAY! Make sure you check back then!

Brandon and Abel are huge fans of Castaway Planet, a science fiction show, and their nemeses are the CadSim shippers—fans who believe that Cadmus and Sim, the “dashing space captain Cadmus and dapper android Sim” who are the show’s two main characters, will end up together by the end of Castaway Planet, and who write fan fiction about it. After all, Cadmus and Sim are Brandon and Abel’s biggest crushes ever. So, they set out on a six-week odyssey with their friend, Becca, to attend Castaway Planet conventions and prove once and for all that the space captain and the android are not in love . . . but they get more than they bargained for when they find themselves in the sights of the fanfic community. Could they ever make an RL romance work, or is their relationship  destined to self-destruct?

People: I think How to Repair a Mechanical Heart is the most adorable book I’ve ever read, and I don’t mean that in an infantilizing way, but in an I-want-to-have-sleepovers-with-it-every-Friday kind of way. This is YA nerdqueer at its most charming. (Also, it’s so delightful to find such an amazing gem that is also self-published!) Abel is confident and flirtatious (“This RV is like, nine months pregnant with awesome“) and Brandon is still working through residual (and paralyzing) Catholic guilt about being gay. Yet, their shared Castaway Planet obsession and vlog brought these two opposites together. This results in some absolutely hilarious nerd-talk, as well as some super poignant heartache. How to Repair a Mechanical Heart is told from Brandon’s perspective, so his battles with his religion and his sexuality are particularly poignant:

“Abel Charges after me. Grabs my arm by the bakery case. He does it like it’s nothing, like he doesn’t even realize his hand is there, and meanwhile my arm is zapping hot panicked messages to my brain: he’s touching me I’m being touched don’t move don’t breathe act normal be Sim.”

and

“‘Brandon, it’s time you knew. Your mother has a crush on an android.’

They all crack up, Mom and Dad and Father Mike the loudest of all. Coffee sours in my stomach. If a nice little anxiety disorder wasn’t programmed into my motherboard, I’d say So do I and watch them implode.”

Anyone with love for geek or fan culture will read How to Repair with a warmed heart and giggle, because in addition to being about coming out, coming of age, and finding love, How to Repair a Mechanical Heart is an absolute love letter to geek culture. And, where some books about geek culture are mocking it out of the sides of their mouths, How to Repair unabashedly wallows in its own geekiness.

“She throws back her head and releases an unholy screech, loud enough to chill the collective blood of the Social Media conference two ballrooms over.

Everyone freezes. The guy chatting up Bec breathes holy shit.

Abel leans close. ‘Omigod,’ he hisses.

‘I know.’

‘We were there, Bran. We were there when Bree LaRue melted down in Cleveland. Historic.'”

How To Repair A Mechanical Heart by J.C. LillisGeek culture here includes real person shipping; that is, as I mentioned, there are some folks who decide to write fiction about Abel and Brandon themselves. This element of the book is particularly interesting to me—the notion of fans caring so much that they will intercede in order to bring about a different course of action, and the line between character and persona being blurred. (Supernatural, seasons 4 and 5, amiright?) J.C. Lillis clearly knows how the fan community works and she brings it all to bear in the amazing fictional chatrooms of the ABANDON (that’s Abel + Brandon, y’all) shippers:

“sorcha doo: if they get together global warming will stop and wars will end and kevin will love me again.

amity crashful: hey_mamacita are you here?? we neeeeeeeed you.

hey_mamacita: OMG SOBBING AND SHAKING AND VOMITING RAINBOWS. LIKE WHAT IS THIS LIFE EVEN.

amity crashful: your last fic made me cry like a bb

hey mamacita: LISTEN: it’s not fic anymore. okay? It is PROPHECY. i mean SHIT ON A SHINGLE, SON it is SO CLOSE to happening and I don’t give a porcupine’s bumhole what maxie & her minions at Cadsim think. . . . THINGS. HAVE. EVOLVED.

amity crashful: omg I worship you. Never stop saying words.”

and, later,

retro robot: OMG mamacita that is eerie. I love you so much.

sorcha doo: mamacita u give me life.

hey_mamacita: THIS HAS TO HAPPEN. WE WILL WRITE IT INTO BEING.

When even the chat room personas have unique and intriguing voices, you know it’s gotta be good. And it is! There are wonderful characters here, as well as a truly fun road-trip-structured plot. There is humor, there are tears, there are snacks. There is fighting, there is making up, there are costume balls. And, after you’ve read the book, check out these character extras on J.C. Lillis’ website . . .

Indeed, I don’t want to say much more because J.C. Lillis has such wonderful things to say about the book and its many fascinations. So, check back here on Wednesday for our interview with her and for your chance to win a copy of How to Repair a Mechanical Heart!

And My New Favorite Book Is: Winger!

A Review of Winger by Andrew Smith

Simon & Schuster, 2013

Winger by Andrew Smitha

by REBECCA, May 8, 2013

characters

Ryan Dean (yes, that’s his first name): 14-year-old junior at a posh boarding school and winger on the rugby team, he’s in love with his best friend Annie and not sure he’ll live through the year rooming with Chas, the biggest bully on the team

Annie: thinks Ryan Dean is aces, but often calls him a “little boy,” activating his desire to kill everything

Joey: rugby captain and all around delightful human being, Joey dispenses sage advice and tries to discourage Ryan Dean from fucking up his life, all while dealing with the fact that being a gay rugby player makes some people pretty dang uncomfortable

worldview

As anyone who reads the blog knows, I am a huge Andrew Smith fan. I think he is one of the most consistently amazing authors working today, young-adultish or otherwise. (I review Stick HERE and The Marbury Lens HERE.) Thus, I’ve been looking forward to Winger since Smith first announced it on his blog because a.) it’s an Andrew Smith book, duh, and b.) it’s a boarding school book, a setting that lives at the heart of some of my all-time favorite books.

Well, Winger scores a solid five out of five snort-laughs on Rebecca’s goddammit-I-can’t-read-this-in-public-because-I-will-humiliate-myself-and-scare-the-parents-of-small-children index of reading reactions! (you’ll get it once you read the book). Note: “Catastrophic Fucking Penis Injury”—yes, that is a quote from the book—will be my new band name. We will be a death metal klezmer band and we will serve pastrami finger sandwiches at our concerts. Come early and come often.

Winger by Andrew Smith illustrated by Sam BosmaWinger manages to be both hysterically funny and gut-wrenchingly sad, and it has illustrations to boot (done by Sam Bosma, who also did the gorgeous back cover).

Ryan Dean’s humor is always paired with desperate humiliation or neurotic dread, making every paragraph a complicated portrait of a fascinating character. I loved getting to know him and I even (embarrassingly) found myself thinking, at one point, “hot damn, I can’t wait to see what an amazing grown up Ryan Dean is going to be.” For me, the true triumph of the character is in Smith’s willingness to risk his likability by doing things like exposing his feelings about how he thinks about Joey:

“I suddenly felt really awkward being here, in my bed, alone in my room, with a gay guy. And then I immediately got pissed off at myself for even thinking shit like that, for doing the same kind of crap to Joey that everyone else did, ’cause I knew what it felt like too, being so not-like-all-the-other-guys-here. And I don’t mean I know what it felt like to be gay, because I don’t, but I do know what it felt like to be the “only” one of something. Heck, as far as I know, there’s just got to be more gay eleventh graders than fourteen-year-old eleventh graders, anyway.

I wondered if it bothered Kevin Cantrell, though. Joey and Kevin had been roommates for two years, and no one ever talked shit about Kevin or wondered if he was gay, because everyone knew he just wasn’t.

I am such a loser.”

This kind of character detail is so difficult to pull off, even though Smith always makes it seem effortless. These are the details that make his characters—even the minor ones—so vivid. “Seanie slipped me a folded square of paper with flowers and hearts drawn on it, and said, ‘Here. Read this. I wrote you a haiku about how gay you are for sitting next to Joey for two classes in a row.’ . . . ‘Nice,’ I said. ‘In Lit class I’m going write you a sonnet about how nothing could possibly be gayer than writing your friend a haiku.'” Sean, incidentally, is one of my favorite characters, with his creepy sense of humor and the immense number of hours he pours into hacking other students’ facebook pages even when no one notices.

Annie shares Ryan Dean’s best friend card with Joey, and Ryan Dean is totally in love with her. The growth of their relationship wasn’t the most interesting element of the story for me, but Ryan Dean’s perspective on the feelings of first love (and his hilariously out-of-control hormones) make it more than appealing to read.

Winger by Andrew Smith, illustrated by Sam BosmaNo, for me the thing that Andrew Smith does best—and Winger is certainly representative of this—is think through the knotty cluster of questions about masculinity, sexuality, bravery, vulnerability, trauma, and hope. The questions about masculinity that Winger thinks through are particularly nuanced and interesting because of the friendship between Joey and Ryan Dean, the former the strong, handsome, respected captain of the rugby team who is also gay, and the latter a boy who is much younger and smaller than the other boys he goes to school with. It’s masterfully done.

The boarding school setting really lets all these issues marinate, and gives it a kind of un-modern feel (cell phones, facebook, et cetera, are not allowed on campus). Ryan Dean has been moved to a dorm for troublemakers this year because he stole a teacher’s cell phone to call Annie one weekend, so he’s rooming with Chas Becker, who he fears might kill him, and is separated from the friends he roomed with the year before, Sean and JP. This shift in Ryan Dean’s social circle encourages some changes for him and necessitates others, so the book finds him at a really dynamic moment.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

Winger by Andrew SmithTo be totally honest, I feel like now I’m just kind of talking out of my ass, looking for something to say that will make you read Winger, but the truth is that I don’t have anything else to say that isn’t just gushy chatter or would spoil something, so I’m going to stop, and just quote you some more amazingness. The fact is: Winger lives up to and surpasses every expectation. Winger is fucking stellar; Andrew Smith has once again created something that has moved me immensely; reading Andrew Smith makes me embarrassed for every single one of us out there who isn’t as honest as his characters are, me included; I look forward to having a conversation about the ending after everyone’s read it; godspeed ye to the bookstore.

Here, Chas makes Ryan Dean play poker with him, Joey, and Kevin, and Ryan Dean has never had beer before:

“As Chas began dealing the cards out, all these things kind of occurred to me at once:

1. The taste. Who ever drinks this piss when they’re thirsty? Are you kidding me? Seriously . . . you’ve got to be kidding.

2. Little bit of vomit in the back of my throat. It gets into my nasal passages. It burns like hell, and now everything also smells exactly like barf. Nice. Real nice.

3. I am really scared. I am convinced something horrible is going to happen to me now. I picture my mom and dad and Annie (she is so smoking hot in black) at my funeral.

4. Mom and Dad? I feel so terrible that I let them down and became a dead virgin alcoholic at fourteen.

5. For some reason, Chas, Joey, and Kevin are all looking at me and laughing as quietly as they can manage.

6. Woo-hoo! Chas dealt me pocket Jacks.”

and this:

“I saw [Chas] turn his face over his shoulder and look at me once, and I’ll be honest, it scared me. I considered scrawling a makeshift will on the back of a napkin, but as I took mental inventory of my life’s possessions, I realized no one would want them anyway.

I was as good as dead now.

Images of my funeral again: both Annie and Megan looking so hot in black; Joey shaking his head woefully and thinking how he told me so; JP and Chas high-fiving each other in the back pew; Seanie installing a live-feed webcam in my undersize casket; and Mom and Dad disappointed, as always, that I left this world a loser alcoholic virgin with eighteen stitches over my left eye.”

Gaaaaaawwwwd! Read this book, y’all. Don’t make me step on your testicles and then write a haiku about it.

readalikes

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan (2013). The Tragedy Paper is also a boarding school book that excavates the intricacies of friendships, growing up, and being different. My complete review is HERE.

King of the Screwups by K.L. Going

King of the Screwups by K.L. Going (2009). While the premises are totally different, Winger reminded me of K.L. Going’s tone in King of the Screwups. Ryan Dean and Liam share a kind of hilarious hopelessness when things go wrong. And, like Winger, King of the Screwups is both really funny and totally gutting. Read my full review HERE.

procured from: I received an ARC of Winger from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. Winger by Andrew Smith will be available May 14th. Which leaves you just enough time to go read ALL of Andrew Smith’s other books.

The Fault in Our Stars: Tears are Cool

The Fault in Our Stars
John Green
Dutton Books, 2012

Characters
Hazel Grace Lancaster, permanently out of breath and depressed as a side effect of dying (and having cancer) but otherwise a sparkling and intelligent girl.
Augustus Waters, or Gus, one-legged, well-rounded, well-read.
Isaac, unlucky in love and health and still is a great friend.
Peter Van Houten, elusive author of a book that seems to read Hazel’s mind

Hook
Is it harder or easier to be in love when you’re dying?

Worldview
Hazel has cancer, but cancer isn’t the sum of her. Sure, the effects of it are the most noticeable things about her appearance–steroids make her cheeks puffy and she carts around an oxygen tank–but her particular lung cancer is stabilized by an experimental drug. Still, she can’t go to school without being exhausted, so she sits around her house watching America’s Next Top Model and reading. Until her parents talk to her about joining a Cancer Support Group. Which is where she meets Augustus Waters. Who becomes her first love.

Much like in Hazel’s self, the cancer and the love story are inextricably linked in The Fault in Our Stars. Things are both harder and easier for Hazel and Augustus because of this. It’s easier for their friends and family to believe the depth of their involvement because they’ve both been through a lot and so have more maturity than some teens. But it’s harder for them both to be involved because they can’t stop thinking about the extenuating circumstances and what they’re doing to their emotions, should one of them die. It’s easier for them to complete a possibly romantic quest because they have cancer, but harder to imagine where they’re going in life generally. And so on.

Intention Achievement
In other words, this is and is not a cancer book. I was caught off guard with it in an elevator in Dallas with 2 friendly passengers who asked: “What are you reading?”

“It’s a book about a girl with cancer…” I started out. They made scrunchy sad/empathetic faces, and I rushed in to say “But it’s not that kind of cancer book.”  Then I asked them what was in their take-home containers to diffuse the tension. (blue corn muffins, if you’re curious)

What I wanted to say is that it wasn’t a cheesy or melodramatic cancer book. It wasn’t a Lurlene McDaniel or Nicholas Sparks book. Or, it was built on that model but transcended it.  The only problem is that I’ve only seen A Walk to Remember. Which highlights the fact that if this weren’t a John Green book, I probably wouldn’t be reading it. So, I’d say this book achieves its intention, which is to be a good book, and in particular, a good John Green book. I happen to be a fan of John Green’s, so this is good news to me (and all the Nerdfighters).

Not John Green, LURLENE!

What makes a John Green book? It’s like a really good sandwich because it has all the right amounts of textures and flavors: there’s lightness, heaviness, crunchiness, softness, tanginess/saltiness, sweetness, and umami.  He’s got flow to his work, so even as he’s setting you up to sob like a little baby, as you will if you read The Fault in Our Stars, you can’t help but read along. It’s the best kind of bamboozling.

I’m not talking about the actual book so much because it’s hard to describe without giving stuff away. I don’t want to focus on the whole disease thing too much.  The reason I didn’t care that I was being manipulated to cry by John Green’s narrative is that it felt like feeling things instead of manipulation, and because I love a good love story.

When Hazel and Augustus meet, they are flirty but cautious, but can’t help hanging out with each other (after a great misunderstanding about a cigarette that shows Hazel’s pluck).  Their quiet excitement about finding each other is perfectly depicted. The exhilaration of meeting someone who gets you never gets old to read about.  The Fault in Our Stars has this in abundance. Here’s two quiet examples:

1.

“Our hands kind of got muddled together in the book handoff, and then he was holding my hand. ‘Cold,’ he said, pressing a finger to my pale wrist.

‘Not cold so much as underoxygenated,’ I said.

‘I love it when you talk medical to me,’ he said. He stood, and pulled me up with him, and did not let go of my hand until we reached the stairs.” (34).

This has the excitement of new hand-holding from someone  you just met, and dorky humor that happens when you like someone too much to care.

2.

“I drove Augustus’s car home with Augustus riding shotgun. He played me a couple songs he liked by a band called The Hectic Glow, and they were good songs but because I didn’t know them already, they weren’t as good to me as they were to him. I kept glancing over at his leg, at the place where his leg had been, trying to imagine what the fake leg looked like. I didn’t want to care about it, but I did a little. He probably cared about my oxygen.” (35.)

This is a great passage because it has attraction with all of its attendant over-self-awareness, or attraction tempered by Hazel’s knowledge that she’ll be hearing more of Augustus’s favorite band and get to the point where she will have his level of enthusiasm for them (aka anticipation!). I love that she admits she doesn’t like the music as much as he does – she doesn’t have to pretend to do that kind of stuff.

The Fault in Our Stars also has international travel and becoming aware of the falseness of your most cherished beliefs, getting over that blow, and moving on, and being a good friend to someone in a truly shitty situation (seriously – another thing that I loved was that Hazel came into her own as a friend to Isaac apart from his friendship with Augustus).  What else? The cover is great.

You will probably cry if you read this book. If so, I recommend getting this song stuck in your head. It’s one of my favorites from middle school and the lyrics are applicable to this story.

Readalikes

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick
I haven’t read this yet, but many librarians stand behind it and it’s contemporary realistic fiction about a boy and his brother and his brother’s leukemia, so I’d say it’s a good fit.

70s butts!

That Was Then, This is Now by S.E. Hinton
This is a book that made me sob like a baby when I was a teen. Plotwise, it is a coming of age story, but otherwise has no other similarities to our book being reviewed. I did re-read it recently and couldn’t figure out which part exactly made me cry, but it’s still a good book. Click here for an S.E. Hinton valentine!

The Hub, YALSA’s blog, just published a great round-up of cancer fiction here!

Digression
Because John Green is so popular, people have Opinions about him and they’re usually extreme. The bad ones go like this: his characters talk like Dawson’s Creek (not like real people) and his girls are unrealistic.  I disagree on both counts.  Although Hazel’s outburst in support group the first time that Augustus comes is a little over the top, I’d point you to Fiona Apple’s outburst at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards. Furthermore, I’ve heard teens talk like his teens, except with more focus on manga and less on literature. Secondly, his girl characters are as realistic as any of his other characters, which is to say, very realistic.

John Green writes about love a lot, especially first love or right after first love breaks your heart. He describes having hopes about people, hopes that they are the people who will make you a more interesting person. He writes about the anger that happens when these people fail you. I think some people read it just as that: books about boys wanting magically quirky girls to save them, or a book about a diseased and quirky girl hoping a diseased and quirky boy can save her. Now, this could just be the fact that people want different things from their love stories, and there’s something off to them about the way crushes and breakups and love happens in a John Green book. But I refuse to write the characters off as “quirky”.

Take this quote from Hazel:

“My favorite book, by a wide margin, was An Imperial Affliction, but I didn’t like to tell people about it. Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.” (33).

Yes! Right??? The quote about the book that speaks to you is SPEAKING TO ME. Meta.

Anyway, beside the fact that this quote reads my mind and says what I’m thinking better than I ever could, it demonstrates that Hazel is a girl who has more going on with her than being quirky.  If loving a book makes you quirky, god help us.  And many of the characters in John Green books know an area of arcane trivia or read books – is that what makes them quirky, or what makes them unrealistic?  If you say unrealistic, I’d argue that every book is a fantasy on that level, populated by people the author made up and wishes existed, and he hasn’t created the most egregious fantasy. If you say quirky, then there’s a comment on the A.V. Club review of the book that I think argues this better than I could because it uses source material (note: MPDG is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which is a trope people like to throw at girl characters):

Lindsay Simms says “yeah, John does like his MPDG, but not in the way that most authors/writers/directors do. I’ve always viewed those girls (Alaska, Margo) as girls that you DON’T want to emulate, as opposed to in, say, Garden State, when Sam is shown with no faults.

To quote John, ‘What a treacherous thing, to believe that a person is more than a person.'”

In short, there will be people who like his books and those who don’t, and that’s okay. I guess I’m just declaring which camp I’m in and why.

I got this book from: the library

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