Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sorry for the delay...

Hey strangers!

I just wanted to apologize for the slow-down in activity in September.

I initially had to wait to post anything new for a little bit, because Accio Lit was a school project and it needed to be graded. Then I got busy enjoying my two weeks off from school and felt I needed to take a break from writing constantly and, ya know, actually talk to my husband for more than 5 minutes before I fall into exhausted, grad school mania-induced sleep. And THEN I got an additional library job. Plus some other boring stuff happened that you won't care about. So it's been a busy month for me.

Anyway, I am BACK, though I will not be posting as frequently as I was when I was reading YA for class. I'm going to try to review one book a week. I'm pretty sure I can keep that pace up. So yeah, look out for some new reviews coming very soon. I am in the final pages of Golden Son, the second book in the Red Rising trilogy (zomgcannotwaittotalkaboutit) and I have the new A.S. King (which will be out on Tuesday) on deck for reviewing as well, so STAY TUNED.

Also, in a completely unintentional twist of fate, today is my favorite genius witch Hermione Granger's 36th birthday, so...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY HERMIONE!


I'll have at least one review up by Sunday. See you then!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen



Saint Anything
by Sarah Dessen

Hardcover, 417 pages
Published on May 5, 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers (First edition)
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Romance
Awards: Kids' Indie Next List Pick for Teens, Summer
               2015

MLA: Dessen, Sarah. Saint Anything. New York: Viking, 2015. Print. ISBN-13: 978-0451474704. Hardcover, $19.99.

Find it in your local library!





When her charismatic older brother Peyton’s delinquent behavior finally catches up to him, Sydney’s family is forced to deal with the fallout of his prison sentence and the consequences of the life he almost took in a drunk driving accident. Just when it feels like her parents will never truly see her from under the shadow of Peyton’s mistakes, Sydney meets the Chatham family, including quirky Layla and kind, handsome Mac, and they give her the acceptance she needs to carve out a life of her own.

Sydney Stanford feels like she’s always lived in her brother Peyton’s shadow. He’s brave and charming, and even when he made some serious mistakes, everything always seemed to go his way. Until one terrible night when it didn’t.

Sydney’s parents also live in Peyton shadow now – her mother doesn’t want to acknowledge that her son is in prison, so she treats him like a victim, and her father seems to go along with it to make life easier. Sydney, however, is not okay with letting go of the misery her brother caused, especially for the young teenager left paralyzed because Peyton got behind the wheel while he was drunk.

When she transfers from her fancy private academy to the local public high school to regain some normalcy, she meets the Chatham family, owners of Seaside Pizza. Quirky Layla Chatham quickly becomes her best friend, and Layla’s gentle, handsome brother Mac catches her eye even though Layla made it clear he’s off limits. But love has a way of finding us when we need it most, and the each of the Chathams help Sydney find her voice in Sarah Dessen’s newest novel, Saint Anything.


Here's the book trailer for Saint Anything:


Teen Talk

“I like realistic teen fiction because of the relatable characters, plus it’s easy to read, and never boring.” -Molly H., 18

These three qualities are what makes Sarah Dessen so enduringly popular among readers! 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki


This One Summer
by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (Illustrator)

Paperback, 320 pages
Published May 6, 2014 by First Second Books (First edition)
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Graphic Novel
Awards: Governor General's Literary Award for
               Children's Literature (Illustration), 2014
               Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album, 2015
               Michael L. Printz Honor Book, 2015
               Caldecott Medal Honor Book, 2015

MLA: Tamaki, Mariko (writer) and Tamaki, Jillian (illus.). This One Summer. New York: First Second, 2014. Print. ISBN-13: 978-1596437746. Paperback, $17.99.

Find it in your local library!



Every year since she can remember, Rose and her parents trek to Awago Beach where they spend ten blissful days enjoying the last bright rays of summer sunshine as a family. This year, Rose and her summertime friend Windy find themselves entangled in the local teenagers’ drama as a means of avoiding Rose’s mounting family problems in this beautifully illustrated story about the perilous and thrilling journey from girlhood to grown-up.

The Wallace family’s annual vacation to their cabin on Awago Beach usually means that Rose spends two blissful weeks swimming in the lake, collecting rocks with her parents, and riding bikes with her summer friend Windy. But this year is different.


Just going to the beach and lounging around with her family and Windy doesn’t seem to be enough for Rose anymore. The girls begin to notice the Awago townie teenagers in all their dramatic zeal, and spying on them suddenly becomes their summer mission. Rose and Windy are curious about scary movies and sex, and Rose doesn’t want to admit her crush on store clerk Dunc.


Meanwhile, Rose’s parents – affable Evan and increasingly withdrawn Alice – won’t stop fighting, and as Alice’s depression worsens, Rose is increasingly frustrated and angered by her behavior. Sweet, outgoing Windy, who is a year younger than Rose, occasionally seems a little too immature.


Everything about the summer looks the same but feels different, and as Rose flashes back to the simpler memories of her childhood on Awago Beach, she realizes that things will never be the same after This One Summer.

Verdict

I don’t even know where to start with this gorgeous graphic novel. Everything about it, from the quietly heartbreaking story to the startlingly accurate tween dialogue to the seriously PERFECT illustrations just made me melt.

Let me begin with my favorite image from This One Summer:



Jillian Tamaki draws such organic and emphatic movement that I feel like these characters are real. The fluid motion of Windy’s dancing just totally filled my heart for some reason. I love Windy. I finished this book thinking, she’s going to be such an awesome grown-up someday. This spread really captures the joy of being young, of dancing to your own tune. I’m in love.

Rose’s best quality, and one of the many reasons she’s such a compelling character, is her curiosity, always making observations. Yes, she is good at being quiet and sneaking around to catch pieces of information. But she also pays such close attention to her surroundings. We could all stand to be a little more attentive to each other.

There’s this moment of realization toward the end of the book that the mothers know pretty much everything that has happened with the girls over the summer vacation, right down Rose’s new crush. It weirdly surprised me. Weirdly, because now that I’m (chronologically) an adult, I should obviously know that parents ALWAYS know what’s going on, even if it doesn’t seem like they are paying attention. But I became so wrapped up in Rose and Windy and watching their experiences unfold from a tween perspective that I was genuinely surprised that the moms knew what they were up to. That’s how well Mariko and Jillian develop this story – I was transported into the girls’ world so deeply that I forgot the realities of the adult world for a moment. And that’s the true gift of This One Summer.

As you can see from the description, This One Summer was nominated for a bunch of awards, including the Governor General's Literary Award for Children's Illustration, sponsored by the Canada Council for the Arts. Here's a video of Jillian Tamaki discussing the book upon winning the award.



I totally agree when she talks about writer and illustrator being "co-creators," in the instance of This One Summer especially. The text is occasionally sparse, allowing the illustrations to tell the story in a way that words just couldn't. When a bowl slips from Alice's frustrated hands and smashes into pieces on the floor, or when Evan carries Rose to the cabin at the beginning of the story, those moments are made so much more powerful because we can see them. Jillian has complete command of our attention through her illustrations, helping us see what moments are most important. Her beautiful art makes me wish I could draw, and I want to hang some of these pictures on my wall. 


Sunday, August 30, 2015

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith


100 Sideways Miles
by Andrew Smith

Hardcover, 277 pages
Published September 2, 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (First edition)
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Awards: National Book Award Longlist for Young
               People's Literature, 2014
               NPR Best Book of the Year for Young Adults,
               2014

MLA: Smith, Andrew. 100 Sideways Miles. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014. Print. ISBN-13: 978-1442444959. Hardcover, $17.99.

Find it in your local library!



After a freak accident as a child involving a dead horse that killed his mother and left him epileptic and scarred, Finn Easton measures his life differently from other people – in distance instead of time. Over the course of his junior year, Finn ponders life and his future, falls in love, and takes a memorable road trip with his laid-back prankster best friend Cade Hernandez in this quirky coming-of-age novel about self-discovery.

Sometimes Finn Easton feels like his life isn’t really his own.

A bizarre accident, in which a dead horse tumbled from a knackery truck and plunged from a bridge to the ground below, killed his mother, leaving seven-year-old Finn with epilepsy and some majorly strange-looking scars on his back. He shares his name and scars and epilepsy with the lone survivor of a race of murderous winged aliens who invade earth to consume humans in his father’s wildly popular science-fiction novel, and he lives every day at the whim of floral-scented seizures that occur with very little warning. Plus, he’s a seventeen-year-old virgin.

Finn worries that he can’t control the trajectory of his own life, but he’s determined to try. With his wild and mischievous best friend Cade Hernandez at his side, Finn spends his junior year playing baseball, pulling pranks, and falling madly in love with Julia, the beautiful and mysterious new girl in town. Just as he finally starts to feel like he’s leaving the pages of his father’s book behind, Julia makes a decision that affects them both and launches him right back where he started. One fateful road-trip later, Finn realizes that sometimes life’s unexpected detours lead us to find our own roads to happiness.

Verdict

I liked 100 Sideways Miles. I didn’t love it. That’s not to say that you won’t – it was nominated for the National Book Award, which is a Really Big Deal and is usually an excellent endorsement. But my feelings are lukewarm.

The good: the writing in 100 Sideways Miles is fantastic, and the non-linear plot filled with little digressions of daily life is compelling and meshes with the overall story. The weirdness of this novel really appealed to me, and I thought it was cleverly executed overall, especially the road-trip twist at the end. There’s a condom-buying scene that absolutely nails the awkwardness of being a hormone-ravaged teenager, and Finn’s contemplations on whether he’s ready to have sex are so funny and sincere that it hurts. I’m interested to read Andrew Smith’s other books. And how gorgeous is that cover?!

The biggest (though not the only) reason I didn’t love this book was the female characters. Let me explain.

First, on the subject of characters, I should say that Finn was deeply obnoxious to me through about the first third of the book. The smarty-pants “I count time in miles” shtick felt empty to me. But he did redeem himself through the second half of the novel when his normal teenage insecurities started to bring him back down to earth with the rest of us, and by the end he felt very real. Cade Hernandez is ridiculous and I couldn’t help but like him, even when I couldn’t stand him.

But to return to the female characters: the more minor of the two is a German exchange student named Monica who is, um, seeing? dating? Cade, the guy who according to Finn makes all females swoon. I honestly have no idea what to call their interactions. She apparently pays Cade to allow her to perform sexual favors for him in a shed by their high school, which I’m not gonna lie, makes NEGATIVE sense.

Like, I am more inclined to believe in the weird people-eating angel-aliens in Finn’s dad’s book than I am to buy that a teenage girl would ever suggest and then happily follow through with this arrangement.



There’s just no way. And then they hang out and go to a party kind of like they’re dating, and Cade misses her (I think?) when she moves back to Germany. Soooo… I really have no idea what to make of any of this, other than that Andrew Smith was trying to live out a high school fantasy through this totally implausible and mildly offensive relationship. Either way, she serves no purpose and has no personality to speak of.

It has been a few days since I finished this book, and as of the moment I type this I have already forgotten the main female character’s name. THAT is the extent to which she is one-dimensional and unchanging. (Okay, looked it up, her name is Julia.) Here’s the sum total of what I know about Julia: she is half black, she’s from Chicago, she is creative, her ex-boyfriend raped her and is currently in prison for it, and Finn is in love with her. Oh, and she drives a Mustang. I didn’t get any feel for her personality and I have no idea what Finn sees in her outside of this sudden overwrought love that came out of nowhere and seems to be driven largely by his desire to have sex with someone. I’m sure she’s a great girl with a life and friends and a personality, but our narrator Finn has filled us in on none of these things.

I went on this tirade in the Red Rising review, and it is even more blatant and frustrating here – rape is NOT a plot device. In 100 Sideways Miles, the assault is mentioned in any meaningful way exactly once to explain away Julia’s sudden arrival to California from Chicago, and then never again. That she is a rape survivor plays into the plot of the novel NOT AT ALL. You could remove this scene and the book would be totally unchanged. There’s just no reason for it to exist.

Victimization is NOT THE ONLY WAY to give a female character depth – not that it gives Julia any depth anyway because she doesn’t seem to be affected by what happened to her. She does not grow or change. Julia’s only real point of existing in this book is for Finn to dream about sleeping with her and then fall hopelessly in love. I know this is crazy, but I felt so bad for this fictional character because her story wasn’t being told, and worse, because her own boyfriend didn’t seem to care enough to tell it.

I liked 100 Sideways Miles. It might sound like I didn’t, but I did. Just be warned: the character development outside of Finn and Cade isn’t just weak, it is non-existent, so read this one for the story and the accurate, occasionally quite funny depiction of dudebro friendship. Recommended for older teens 15+ because of language and sexual themes.

Here's author Andrew Smith discussing 100 Sideways Miles, wherein he covers a bunch of other stuff in the book that I didn't get to:


Too many fantastic quotes in this book not to make one, so stay tuned!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson



The Impossible Knife of Memory
by Laurie Halse Anderson

Paperback, 416 pages
Published June 2, 2015 by Speak (First edition published in 2014)
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Social Issues
Awards: National Book Award Longlist, Young
               People's Literature, 2014

MLA: Anderson, Laurie Halse. The Impossible Knife of Memory. New York: Speak, 2015. Print. ISBN-13: 978-0147510723. Paperback, $9.99.

Find it in your local library!





Hayley Kincaid and her veteran father Andy have been running for too long, always trying to stay one step ahead of Andy’s crippling PTSD. When they attempt to settle in Andy’s hometown for Hayley’s senior year of high school, Hayley and Andy are forced to confront the demons that have plagued them for so long in this gripping tale about the searing pain of loss and finding the courage to face the dangerous memories that threaten to consume them both.

For the last five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father Andy have been on the run.

Andy, a decorated Iraq War veteran who spent four tours overseas before an injury ended his military career, suffers from crippling waves of post-traumatic stress disorder that crash into him without warning, making it difficult to keep a job or live a normal life. Hayley, his beleaguered daughter, lived nearly her entire adolescence at his side as he drove trucks across the country to keep them afloat and his demons at bay. Homeschooling herself from the passenger seat of a big-rig, Hayley always kept one eye on her unsteady parent to prevent him from drowning in his own terrifying memories.

When Andy decides to move back to his emptied family home to regain some normalcy for seventeen-year-old Hayley, she is thrust into senior year in a traditional pubic high school for the first time ever. Unused to the structure of classes and homework and unwilling to negotiate the social landscape of high school politics, Hayley allows her caustic observations and dark humor to eclipse the possibility of a fresh start. Her only friend, well-meaning Gracie, has problems of her own as her parents’ divorce gets increasingly contentious. When Hayley meets clever, persistent Finn, she falls hard despite her best efforts to avoid her feelings, and the two struggle to open up to each other.

Meanwhile, Andy’s half-hearted attempts to reintegrate into civilian society are becoming more difficult and less frequent as he turns inward, relying on drugs and alcohol to numb his pain. Hayley assumes more responsibility for her dad as his self-destructive behavior worsens and constant worry consumes her. She deftly navigates the minefield of her father’s PTSD, but the dangers are becoming impossible to avoid.
“The fear made me angry and the anger made me afraid and I wasn’t sure who he was anymore. Or who I was.”
The Impossible Knife of Memory explores the lingering trauma of war and its impact on a family whose abiding love for each other is the only thing keeping them together, even as they fall apart.


Verdict

Anderson deftly tackles the effects of America’s most recent wars on its veterans and their families without taking a stance on the wars themselves, which in itself is an impressive feat. Hayley’s first person narrative is sprinkled with Andy’s italicized flashbacks, which are truly haunting and put his suffering into perspective. Watching Andy self-destruct is heartbreaking, and Hayley’s descriptions of her routines and acute observations of his behavior intended to keep him alive left me aching in sympathy.

On the subject of Hayley’s rebellious streak: many reviewers mentioned that she’s the textbook “angsty teenager,” but I didn’t feel that way at all, mostly because I related to her a great deal. Hayley’s clearly a smart girl. If she weren’t, she would be way further behind because she had no formal education for years prior to Belmont High. I was also a smart, snarky underachiever in high school.

Imagine April Ludgate in high school. That was me.
Full disclosure: I spent every summer of junior and senior high school doing “mandatory community service” (which, as Hayley rightly points out, is incredibly hypocritical) to make up for all the detention I got throughout each year. I wasn’t a bad kid; I never got into any real trouble. I just really, REALLY hated high school. At the time, all the trappings of high school felt very juvenile and “beneath” me. I am a little ashamed to admit all of this now, and I don’t recommend going through your teen years as surly as I was. But I get it.

When you’re dealing with adult issues (like Andy’s PTSD) that are beyond what your teenage responsibilities should be, the seven hours a day you spend in high school can seem like a giant waste of time. Other people’s relationship drama and the cliques and politics of adolescence just aren’t that important. Hayley is clearly irritated and impatient with all of this because her troubles are so much bigger. I’m not saying she handles this appropriately. I’m just saying I understand.

The problem is, Hayley knows how to be a caretaker, basically parenting her father in dangerous and uncharted waters with little help from adults, but she doesn’t know how to be a teenager. Lurking under the surface of Anderson’s narrative is the knowledge that Andy’s PTSD must remain a secret if Hayley wants to avoid the foster system and surrender her dad to his demons. This would be terrifying for anybody, but especially a teen whose stability has been ripped out from underneath her so many times. Hayley must learn to trust and share her secrets in order to avoid becoming a casualty of her own internal war.

Recommended for teens 14 and up, especially fans of realistic, gritty fiction that depicts the hard realities that many teens face every day.


Below is an NPR Weekend Edition podcast interview with Laurie Halse Anderson about The Impossible Knife of Memory:

Here's the book trailer:


Laurie Halse Anderson is active on Twitter, and her website features a list of the rest of her (all awesome) books and her bio.

Teen Talk

“[Realistic YA] appeals to me because it is a way of reassurance when no one else around you in your life feels the same way.” -Samantha K., 17

Laurie Halse Anderson is the queen of hard-to-talk-about subjects in YA lit, and The Impossible Knife of Memory, along with other books like Speak and Wintergirls, are wonderful for giving readers an outlet for their own struggles so they know they're not alone.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Red Rising by Pierce Brown (Red Rising #1)


Red Rising
by Pierce Brown

Paperback, 416 pages
Published July 15, 2014 by Del Ray (First edition published in January 2014)
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure
Series: Red Rising Trilogy #1
Awards: Goodreads Choice Award for Best Debut 
               Goodreads Author, 2014
               Alex Awards Nominee, 2015

MLA: Brown, Pierce. Red Rising. New York: Del Ray, 2014. Print. ISBN-13: 978-0345539809. Paperback, $14.00.

Find it in your local library!




When Darrow, whose lowborn caste mined the underground depths of Mars for generations with the promise of a better future on the terraformed surface, discovers that his entire life has been a lie, he must decide whether to continue toiling as a slave or risk his life to infiltrate the upper class and incite a revolution.

Humanity has long ago conquered the stars. Earth lost a violent civil war against the pioneers of Luna, and humans have finally made it to Mars. In this new reality, democracy is abandoned for a more rigid social caste system of haves and have-nots, coded by the colors of the Earth they have long since left behind. Powerful families of Golds rule with an iron fist, while for centuries the Reds are born and bred to slave away in the dangerous mines under the Martian crust, clinging to the Golds’ promise of a future in which they will inhabit the terraformed surface.

Problem is, that future is already here. The Reds just don’t know it.

The best Helldiver in his mining colony, sixteen-year-old Darrow works hard at the hazardous mining trade to support his loving, idealistic young wife Eo, though the inequitable compensation he receives is as unfair as the oppressive decrees under which the Reds live. Darrow certainly recognizes the system’s injustice, but unlike Eo, he finds a way to reconcile his frustration with the mostly happy existence they have created for themselves. When Eo sacrifices her life in a small but momentous act of defiance against the Golds, Darrow’s carefully constructed world is shattered and replaced with grief and hollow rage. He buries Eo’s body in his own act of rebellion, and like his wife, he is sentenced to death.

Except Darrow does not die. A subversive rebel group known as the Sons of Ares rescues Darrow and offers him the chance to seek justice for his people. They show him the beautiful surface city full of wealth and excess, built on the broken backs of Darrow’s ancestors. They ask him to transform himself into a Gold, to become in body the kind that heartlessly stole from him his only source of happiness, so that he can enter the world of the Gold elite and destroy their society from within. Eo’s dream becomes Darrow’s single-minded purpose, and the painstaking process begins to turn him into the thing he hates the most.

Dismantling the Golds will take every ounce of Darrow’s strength, and he believes he’s ready. But does a lowly Red have what it takes to bring them to their knees?

Verdict

For the most part, this book was awesome. There was a lot of hype around Red Rising when it first came out about it being the next Hunger Games, Ender's Game, and even Lord of the Flies. Sure, there were recognizable moments that recalled the games in The Hunger Games and (much to my delight) the sorting hat in Harry Potter, but they were just moments -- Red Rising stands firmly on its own two feet.

I can't say too much about what happens after my booktalk ends because spoilers (it might seem like I said a lot here but the author covers a lot very quickly to set up the story that follows), but if this book seems to start out slow, it picks up significantly after the events described above. The world-building is fantastic, and even though the author's writing is clean and simple, it packs an emotional punch when it matters most. The secondary characters are fleshed out enough to make you really care about them, and Darrow himself is not a perfect hero, which is refreshing. I am also a sucker for a good political drama, and Red Rising definitely hit the mark.

There's a lot more I could say about this book that I loved, but I want to cover one major issue here, and that is the treatment of women in Red Rising.




First of all, Darrow's wife Eo literally exists to be a catalyst to spur him into action. Her death feels sudden and unnecessary until you realize that she died so that Darrow might get angry enough to take action against the way his people are treated. I don't really understand why Eo couldn't have been the hero of the story, given that Darrow doesn't seem to have anywhere near the backbone she does until she basically commits suicide to make him angry (smells a little sexist, though I don't think that was the author's intention). A lot of bloggers seem to agree with me on this point, and the next.

Briefly: rape as a plot device is not okay. As readers, we need to be paying attention to characters for who they are, not just what happens to them, and turning female characters into victims to push the story forward is both misogynistic and lazy storytelling. I understand the situation in which this type of violence occurs in the book and recognize that, in the context, it makes some small amount of sense to include it.

BUT.

Women should NOT be made into victims solely to give a male character something to fight against. The physical and emotional fallout of sexual assault is not given any voice in Red Rising outside of how Darrow feels about it, and frankly, I do not care how Darrow feels about it. Men should not pat themselves on the back because they are horrified by or would never commit rape -- we ALL should be horrified, and to make basic human decency a "heroic" quality is wrong. I definitely wouldn't not read or recommend this book for this reason, but it gave me pause enough that I felt it should be mentioned.

That said, I just got the second book in the trilogy, Golden Son, in the mail and I'm really excited to read it. Hopefully the author rectifies the misogyny as the series continues, because it really was my only complaint about this book (though not a small one). Recommended for older teens (15+) because of the violence and aforementioned themes. Dystopia and sci-fi fans especially will find Red Rising a very worthy member of the canon.


There's a song in Red Rising called Persephone's Song that is REALLY important to the plot, especially in the beginning. Author Pierce Brown singled out this version on Facebook, and it's very much the kind of folk tune that I imagined as I was reading:




This Tumblr titled Red Rising Reminds Me is pretty hilarious, as it makes comparisons between Red Rising and other books, movies, TV shows, history, etc. This is one to look at after you're done reading -- not that there's really any major spoilers, but it won't make sense until after you finish the book. Definitely worth checking out though, I lol'd.

Finally, the Red Rising website, which is pretty cool in itself, features a "draft" to determine which house you would be in (I'm in house Juno).

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The YA Guide to Book Awards: The Alex Awards

Welcome to the second post in the YA Guide to Book Awards series. Just a reminder of what these posts all about:
Over the next few weeks, I'll be doing a rundown of several different book awards, what they mean, who decides which books receive them (and a few examples of which books have), and why you should pick them up next time you’re in search of a new favorite book.
Last time we covered the Michael L. Printz Award, and this week we'll be talking about YALSA's Alex Awards.


I wanted to discuss this one in particular for two reasons: first, in my conversations with teens over the last few weeks, I've been reminded that that teen reading interests are diverse and not limited to YA. I've talked to readers of Nicholas Sparks and Jodi Picoult and fans of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, among others. As a matter of fact, weirdly enough, the people I know who read the most YA (or read it most often) are actually adults, not teens. So there's that.

Second, the next Accio Lit review will be for Red Rising by Pierce Brown. This book is a perfect example of how confusing the categorization of fiction can be. I think that very often an author writes a book because they have a great story to tell, and they don't really consider an "intended audience." So when a publisher snags it, they want to market the book to whoever they think will be most likely to buy it. If that group is teens, then YA it is. If it's not, then it gets classified by genre in regular fiction.

Anyway, Red Rising fits into that weird in-between category. In fact, Red Rising was an Alex Award nominee in 2015. It's got a teenage protagonist but it deals with more adult-oriented themes than the average YA dystopian novel, and the style is a bit more literary. And even though it was technically not marketed toward teens, I mean, look at this cover compared to other dystopian teen novels:


So I guess the lesson to be learned here is to always remember that good books come in all kinds of packages (and in all sections of the bookstore or library), so don't be afraid to explore to find something you like.


I bring you another YALSA award:

The Alex Awards

What is it?

According to YALSA:
The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18. The winning titles are selected from the previous year's publishing. The Alex Awards were first given annually beginning in 1998 and became an official ALA award in 2002.
The Alex Awards are sponsored by the Margaret A. Edwards Trust. Margaret Alexander Edwards (called "Alex" by her friends) was a librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland who led the library field in administering young adult programming for over thirty years. She set high standards for other young adult librarians at Enoch Pratt, insisting that they read over 200 books for young adults before they were allowed to interact with young people, She felt that the best way to reach the young adult audience was to make them a part of the library community; she went into high schools and booktalked (unheard of back then) and created a version of the modern-day bookmobile to make sure young adults who were unable to get to the library would have the opportunity to read books from the collection she spent years developing. Perhaps most importantly. Edwards alerted the library profession to the importance of young adult literature and library services.

The Alex Award is given to identify those adult titles that have the most interest and appeal to teens (ages 12-18).
The Alex Committee considers any title from a publisher's adult list in the calendar year prior to the announcement [...] Books published outside of the United States are not eligible unless a U.S. edition is available. Works of joint authorship and editorship will be eligible. Titles that are self-published, published only in eBook format, and/or published from a publisher outside of the US will not be considered eligible until the first year the book is available in print or distributed through a US publishing house. 

Who decides?

In 2002, the ALA gave the Alex Awards its own committee, who publishes not only the ten winning titles, but also a vetted list of nominated titles each year. The committee consists of nine librarians who are also members of YALSA, and they serve a one-year term that begins or ends at each ALA Midwinter Conference. Like the Printz award, the Alex committee also includes a consultant from the ALA book review publication Booklist (who doesn't vote). Librarians (and teens!) can nominate books for the Alex awards each year, and if you've read a book recently that fits these qualifications, you can suggest nominations here.

2015 Winners:


        
                   

Why should you care?

I think it's important to occasionally read outside of your comfort zone to get familiar with the variety of genres and types of books that are out there. The Alex Awards give readers of YA a chance to read the kinds of stories that they love, but that cross generational, thematic, and complexity bounds into books that have more characteristically adult themes or writing. Personally, I own four of the ten titles listed above just because I read the blurbs and thought they sounded appealing. (I'm especially looking forward to Wolf In White Van because the author John Darnielle is the lead singer of the Mountain Goats, who I LOVE).

In the next few weeks I'll pick a few more awards to cover, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys


Between Shades of Gray
by Ruta Sepetys

Paperback, 384 pages
Published April 3, 2012 by Speak (First edition published in 2011)
Genre: Historical fiction, Realistic Fiction
Awards: Golden Kite Award in Fiction, 2012
               YALSA William C. Morris YA Debut Award 
               Finalist, 2012
               Carnegie Medal Nominee, 2012

MLA: Sepetys, Ruta. Between Shades of Gray. New York: Speak, 2012. Print. ISBN-13: 978-0142420591. Paperback, $8.99.

Find it in your local library!



Lina, along with her mother and younger brother, are cruelly wrenched from their Lithuanian home in the night by Soviet secret police during the June deportation in 1941 and taken on a long and arduous journey to a work camp in Siberia. Lina and her family fight for their lives, clinging to their traditions, creativity, and love for each other to survive in this gripping tale based on the true experiences of Lithuanians who suffered and died during the Soviet deportations of World War II.

“They took me in my nightgown.” 

Lina Vilkas, a talented fifteen-year-old on the brink of attending a prestigious art school, lived a comfortable middle-class life with her professor father, doting mother, and sweet, impish younger brother in Lithuania. The normalcy of her daily life made it easy to ignore the signs – the hushed conversations between her father and his friends that ended abruptly when she walked in the room, the family photos burned in the fireplace, her mother lining the inside of her coat with valuables.

Lina could ignore these omens because she was happy. She felt safe with her parents, emboldened by her art, loved by her cousin and best friend Joana. Lina had art school and all the promise of a fulfilling life ahead of her.

But on the night of June 14, 1941, a thunderous pounding on the front door changed everything.

The NKVD, the Soviet secret police responsible for cracking down on Stalin’s political enemies, force Lina, her mother, and little brother Jonas onto a filthy, crowded cattle car with the few belongings they managed to carry to begin their 6,500 mile journey to the work camps of frigid Siberia. Owing to uncomfortably close quarters, the family learns more about their fellow captives, including a handsome, headstrong seventeen-year-old named Andrius, with whom Lina finds an unexpected relationship blooming. Though their daily lives in Lithuania shared little in common, the motley group forges close bonds in the fire of their bleak circumstances, clinging to each other to remember the lives they left behind.

Lina comes to discover that they have been charged as criminals; her father was also arrested, and Lina is determined to find him. Despite the colossal risks to her family, she painstakingly documents their lives in the camp through her drawings with the hope that her father might receive them and know they survived. As their situation worsens, Lina summons the courage to fight for the lives of those she loves, to maintain the tiniest spark of hope that someday they will escape from the cold darkness of captivity and return to light of the lives they once knew.

Verdict

I made the mistake of bringing this book with me on vacation to read on the beach. NOT a good call. Don’t get me wrong: this book is achingly beautiful and expertly achieved, and the history of the Lithuanian people (who lived under Soviet rule until 1990), which is underrepresented in history lessons and in literature, deserves to be told. But OH MAN, this is not a beach read.


Between Shades of Gray is an inspiring story about the strength of the human spirit to endure despite the worst atrocities. The power of love, family, and tradition to inspire hope in those with no reason left to believe in their dreams is profoundly illustrated through Lina and her fellow Lithuanians.

Through Lina’s journey, we meet the injured and obnoxious “bald man” Mr. Stalas; wide-eyed little girl Janina; new mother Ona who gave birth just moments before she and her newborn are ripped from the hospital by the NKVD; nurturing librarian Mrs. Rimas; and wife of a Lithuanian army officer Mrs. Arvydas and her son Andrius, among others. These characters are complicated and lovingly rendered as Sepetys attempts to construct the experiences of real Lithuanians who lived to tell the story of their horrifying experiences. Each in their own way, the secondary characters add depth to Lina’s story and help us understand the senselessness of their tragedies. Their small acts of bravery and kindness could cost them their lives, and yet they allow love and decency to prevail over the baser instinct of survival.

So what I’m trying to say is, don’t take this book to the beach unless you want to embarrassingly ugly-cry all the sunscreen off your face. Which is totally what happened to me.

Recommended for teens 13 and up, particularly those interested in history and/or fans of historical or realistic fiction.

Ruta Sepetys was inspired to write Between Shades of Gray by her father's escape from Lithuania as a young boy. Below is a video in which she discusses the novel.



You can also find a full discussion guide here.

The author also included a timeline map in the first pages of the book (scan credit here) that will give you some context before you read about the incredible amount of time and distance Lina and her family endured to get to their final destination in Siberia.


BBC News created a timeline of key events in Lithuania from 1915 to present if you are interested in a brief rundown of the country's history and where they're at today, and you'll find a more thorough history with pictures here.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan



Golden Boy
by Tara Sullivan

Kindle e-Book, 368 pages
Published June 27, 2013 by Puffin Books (Also available in paperback)
Genre: Multicultural, Social Issues
Awards: Notable Social Studies Trade Book, 2014
               YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young
               Adults, 2014

MLA: Sullivan, Tara. Golden Boy. New York: Puffin Books, 2013. Kindle file. ISBN-13: 978-0142424506. e-Book, $8.45.

Find it in your local library!




Habo wants nothing more than to be a normal thirteen-year-old boy: one who kicks around a football with the other children during midday break at his Tanzanian village school, whose family shows him the same love and warmth as they show his dark-skinned siblings, who has a long and certain future ahead of him. If only his skin weren’t milky white and sensitive to the brilliant African sun, his shaky eyes blurry and watery blue, his tight knots of hair a pale shade of yellow. Even his name, Dhahabo, means “gold” in Swahili, a constant reminder of the albinism that makes him different.

But for Habo, being different isn’t just frustrating. It’s dangerous.

When Habo was born, his father abandoned the family, rejecting his light-skinned son. Thirteen years later, the poverty-stricken family is evicted from their farm, and Habo’s mother decides to move them to Mwanza to live with her sister. The family’s arduous journey, during which they accept a ride from a dangerous ivory poacher who mutilates an elephant for its tusks, ends with unexpected conflict in Auntie’s home. She tells them that Mwanza is unsafe for people like Habo because the waganga, or local healers and witch doctors, sell albino body parts as good luck talismans for large sums of money. The police in rural Tanzania mostly ignore albino mutilations and murders since many of them are either corrupt, or they themselves believe in the superstitions of these terrible charlatans. Habo’s family would be much safer in the city of Dar es Salaam, over 1,100 kilometers (roughly 700 miles) away, but the trip is costly for four people. As his family works hard to raise enough money to leave Mwanza, Habo must remain hidden in a tiny, uncomfortable pantry until they can flee to safety.

When disaster strikes, Habo runs away to Dar es Salaam to protect himself and his family. Alone, defenseless, and on the run in an unfamiliar city, Habo summons the courage to face the trials and danger thrust upon him by his condition. His quest to find his place in the world echoes the real-life search undertaken by thousands of albinos in present-day Tanzania, a nation with the highest number of people with albinism in the world and the most dangerous country for them to call home. Habo struggles to determine his own value in a society that considers him both priceless and worthless, and his journey serves as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Verdict

Please read this book.

Golden Boy transcends being a story about human rights and the atrocities faced by the thousands of people with albinism living in Tanzania today who are living in exile and fear, though it is a book that importantly brings awareness to this tragedy. It is also a book about discovering where each of us fits in and learning that who we are consists of more than what others perceive us to be, that no one can take away our self-worth without our permission.

Habo will make you smile, bring tears to your eyes, and (hopefully) spur you into action when you see injustice happening around you. He's not written to be a traditional hero, and his journey is not a traditional one, either. Habo clearly suffers from trauma induced by the attempts on his life and years of feeling rejected and isolated from his own family. He carries the burden of their lives in addition to his own, and he wavers between feelings of anger and guilt for these people who can’t protect him as his very existence puts them in constant danger. Habo is a complicated and nuanced young character and Sullivan validates feelings of isolation, frustration, depression and loneliness through a plot that will keep you reading long into the night. Habo is also bright, observant, and incredibly sweet, and against all odds he manages to maintain a degree of innocence about the world.

Often it is the fear of death that propels Habo into action, and in fiction and real life, there’s no greater motivator. But as his story continues, he grows from a reactionary character to one who makes serious and conscious decisions about his own fate with maturity and wisdom only found in a child who has suffered so tremendously. I was so proud of him by the end of the book. The boy called a “zeruzeru” – literally, “zero-zero,” “nothing” – finds a name for his condition, his voice, his place in the world, and a life where he knows that he matters.

Golden Boy is highly recommended for anyone ages 10 and up. All the feels will be felt, and I hope that you take all the messages of this book to heart as much as I did. This beautiful book has overtaken Bone Gap as my favorite 2015 read, and I loved Bone Gap, so take heed: Golden Boy is a tremendously important feat, and tremendously worth reading.


So I want to take this opportunity to briefly explain what people with albinism like Habo are going through in Tanzania, and what you can do to help. I should warn you that the descriptions of violence in some of these articles, videos, etc. that I'm posting below can be graphic, but remember that they are really happening and we shouldn't turn away from acknowledging their suffering if we can avoid doing so.

According to the United Nations Human Rights Council:
Albinism is a rare, non-contagious, genetically inherited condition present at birth. In almost all types of albinism, both parents must carry the gene for it to be passed on, even if they do not have albinism themselves. The condition is found in both genders, regardless of ethnicity and in all countries of the world. 
Albinism results in a lack of pigmentation (melanin) in the hair, skin and eyes, causing vulnerability to the sun and bright light. As a result, almost all people with albinism are visually impaired and are prone developing skin cancer. There is no cure for the absence of melanin.
Albinism is more prevalent in Tanzania than in any other country in the world. Albinos represent 1 in every 1,429 births in Tanzania, compared to the worldwide estimates of 1 in 17,000 to 20,000, and 14 times greater than in North America and Europe. This means that in addition to living in the most dangerous country in the world for those with this condition, there are far more people with albinism living in Tanzania and Africa on average than anywhere else in the world (an estimated 33,000 people).

Author of Golden Boy Tara Sullivan wrote a brief but thorough run-down of the situation in Tanzania on her website, which I highly recommend reading and passing on. She explains:
The killing of albinos for their body parts to be used as good luck charms is the most extreme form of this marginalization. All over East Africa people with albinism have been attacked, mutilated, or killed for their body parts, predominantly in the lake district of northern of Tanzania. It certain regions it is believed that albino hair woven into nets will catch fish, in others it is believed that albino legs will cause a mine to produce gold. In still others, it is believed that sleeping with an albino will cure AIDS. It is widely believed that wagangas, or shamans, can use parts of albino bodies to give a person fortune, or can use the death of an albino to lift a curse. Some children have been sold by their parents to butchers. Others have been betrayed by brothers, sisters, or spouses. 
Violence against people with albinism in Tanzania is certainly not new; prior to the more recent spate of violence, babies with albinism were killed at birth, many times by their own parents who believed that they would bring bad luck upon their families and communities. Children have traditionally been and continue to be the most vulnerable victims of these crimes. The UN HRC report states:
The use of children is likely linked to the pursuit of innocence which, it is believed, enhances the potency of the witchcraft ritual. Moreover, children are more vulnerable to attacks as they are easy to find and capture and do not have the physical strength to fend off attackers.
Further, many children are sold to poachers like the one chasing Habo by their own families; a "complete set of body parts" of a person with albinism can bring in $75,000 when the average rural Tanzanian family makes an average of TZS 480,000, or about $224 in US dollars per year (the average per capita GDP, or average of all the salaries in Tanzania, was only $2,700 in 2014). The UN reports that as of 2013, they have received information about more than 200 cases of ritual attacks against persons with albinism in 15 countries between 2000 and 2013. They believe that many more attacks occur each year that go unreported.

More attention has been given to the plight of albinos in Tanzania in recent years. Tanzania elected its first albino politician in 2010, and the government has been cracking down on witchdoctors who participate in the albino trade, arresting 200 of them in March 2015. Rural Tanzania, particularly the rural Lake Victoria region (where Mwanza is located), has the highest incidence of these kinds of attacks, while cities are definitely safer. But all albinos in Tanzania, and especially children, still fear for their lives every day.

I highly recommend watching this short documentary on people with albinism in Tanzania, with a particular focus on children abandoned by their families. There's several great documentaries on YouTube on this subject.


Finally, if you feel compelled to take action, please consider fundraising for a great charity called Under the Same Sun. Their mission is to "promote, via advocacy and education, the wellbeing of PWA who in many parts of the world are marginalized, misunderstood, abused and at times mutilated and killed because of their genetic condition." They focus on supporting education programs for children with albinism by providing scholarships and funds for sunscreen, glasses, and other necessities for children with this condition. They also spread awareness of the tragedies in Tanzania and work to stop these violations by educating Tanzanians about albinism.

Tara Sullivan also provides some great suggestions of what you can do to help on her website.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson



Nimona
by Noelle Stevenson

Paperback, 272 pages
Published May 12, 2015 by HarperTeen (Originally published as a webcomic)
Genre: Graphic Novel, Humor, Fantasy
Awards: Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Web Comic,
               2012
               Harvey Award Nominee (Best Online Comics
               Work), 2013

MLA: Stevenson, Noelle. Nimona. New York: HarperTeen, 2015. Print. ISBN-13: 978-0062278234. Paperback, $17.99.

Find it in your local library!



Lord Ballister Blackheart, the biggest name in supervillainy, is perfectly content to devise his evil plans all by himself, thank you very much. So when a cheeky, excitable teenaged redhead with a Chelsea haircut and a penchant for violence appears in (well, more like infiltrates) his lair, pleading to become his super-evil sidekick, he’s not pleased.

Then she shapeshifts into a shark. This changes the game quite a bit.


What follows is an often hilarious, surprisingly touching reimagining of the hero/villain tale. Blackheart became a professional rogue and mad scientist upon losing his arm in a jousting accident during Hero Training at the hands of his former best friend and current archnemesis, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, who answers to the shadowy Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. The Institution, run by a sinister woman known as the Director, trains heroes and claims to protect the kingdom. Blackheart is determined to get revenge against the Institution, who “had no use for a one-armed hero,” and Goldenloin, since Blackheart believes the events that led to his missing arm were no accident.

Nimona enthusiastically sets to work helping Blackheart with his evil plans, but she proves herself to be far more chaotic and bloodthirsty than Blackheart expected, or is willing to deal with. In one particularly adorable exchange, Blackheart admonishes her revisions to his evil plan, reminding her that there are rules to live by, even for supervillains.


Still, Nimona’s powers (the origins of which she does not want to talk about) are formidable, and she finds ways to get into trouble. Nimona and Blackheart make an impressive team, and as they delve further into the inner workings of the Institution, they form an unlikely bond that becomes increasingly complicated as they discover the dissonance between magic and science and changeable nature of good and evil.

Verdict

I seriously enjoyed this funny, clever, and unexpectedly touching comic that really turned the superhero motif on its head. The sense of movement and action Stevenson gives to the art in every panel is tremendously effective at bringing Nimona from the page to your imagination, and it is well-suited to the story Stevenson wants to tell. The world she creates – a medieval-meets-hi-tech fantasyland where magic and science collide – is unique and exciting. The characters are all flawed in their own ways and to varying degrees, making even the secondary characters super interesting.

Ballister is a highlight for me – his rigid morality code, bravery, and sense of duty make him kind of a terrible villain, which is good because he definitely becomes the hero of the story. Ballister begins the journey for revenge, but this thirst for vengeance is quickly overcome by a calling to protect the greater good of the kingdom. His sense of justice and fairness is starkly contrasted with Goldenloin’s willingness to cheat in order to win, and we see that one’s reasons for fighting a battle in the first place can make all the difference in who wins the war. Good and evil are not often clearly defined in life, and they are definitely not clearly defined in this book. Also, on the subject of Ballister, a shout-out to the implied past (and maybe future?) romance between he and Goldenloin is in order, though I wish it would have been fleshed out a little more. I’m sure there’s been many an awesome fan-fic story written about their relationship, and rightfully so, because the possibilities are endless.

Noelle Stevenson is a self-identified feminist, and you will see a distinctly girl-power influence all over Nimona. Is she a girl who can turn into a monster, or is she a monster disguised as a girl? Does it matter? Is there a difference? No matter the answers to these questions, Nimona is powerful, self-confident, impulsive, funny, brave, and complicated, with a touch of sweetness that made me fall head over heels for her. She is the master of her own fate, and she cannot be controlled without consent. Regardless of what brought Nimona to Ballister’s lab in the first place, she knows what she wants, and she doesn’t need anyone’s help to get it. A friend who will accept her seems to be what she’s really after, and in Ballister she finds one in spades.


Noelle Stevenson is not only a talented writer and illustrator, she's also just plain awesome. Her Twitter account is one of my favorites to follow because she's just as funny and charming in real life as she is in her books.

Check out this NPR interview where Stevenson talks about Nimona, lady Thor, and women in comics.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Every Flavor Bean: Top 10 Cult Movies for Teens (Part One)

I considered writing a cult movie post to go along with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and didn’t quite get around to it, but after Anna’s equally serious commitment to all things film in Anna and the French Kiss, I decided it’s time that I share with you my list of the top ten cult movies that YOU MUST WATCH ASAP.


The only basis for inclusion in this list:
a) The movie must be generally considered a “cult classic” (dedicated fan base, subculture surrounding the movie, usually quirky or under-appreciated by the general public)
b) I must love it.

Very scientific, I know. But trust me on this. I think you’ll at least appreciate the cinematic value of each and every one of these amazing movies, no matter how artful or corny they might be.

Without further ado and in no particular order, I give you Part One of…

1. Rocky Horror Picture Show

          Released: September 26, 1975 (US)
          Rated: R
          Directed by Jim Sharman
          Written by Richard O'Brien, Jim Sharman
          Starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O'Brien
          Genre: Musical
       

What it's about: This strange and wonderful musical full of catchy rock tunes and questionable ethics follows Brad and Janet, a straight-laced, newly engaged couple, as a flat tire strands them in an eerie castle in the woods. The castle is inhabited by transvestite scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter and his eccentric entourage, all aliens from the planet Transsexual. That night, Frank-N-Furter (played by the gloriously campy Tim Curry) unveils his newest creation: Rocky, a muscular specimen of perfect man intended to be his plaything. Ridiculously kooky chaos ensues. 



Why you should watch it: Adapted from the stage musical The Rocky Horror Show, this film is the ultimate cult classic, and one of my favorite movies of all time. It is very likely that you've heard Rocky Horror's most famous song, The Time Warp (or watched the RHPS episode of Glee, or read The Perks of Being A Wallflower), and the rest of the soundtrack is just as much fun. It explores sexuality and science fiction in a way that remains fresh 40 (!) years later. On another level, Rocky Horror is also a love letter to campy B-movies and sci-fi of the past. 

FYI, Rocky Horror definitely contains some mature sexual themes, but it's less visually explicit than much of cable TV nowadays. Recommended for older teens, but this is one I'd put on my must-watch-before-graduating-from-high-school list. 

And if you ever get the chance to go to a midnight showing at a movie theater, you totally should. Between the costumes and the audience participation, it's a great time, and you'll definitely see why this movie is a cultural phenomenon. Even my dad's seen it (and once awkwardly sang a few lines of "Sweet Transvestite" in the car).

2. Heathers

          Released: March 31, 1989
          Rated: R
          Directed by Michael Lehmann
          Written by Daniel Waters
          Starring Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty
          Genre: Black Comedy


What it's about: Veronica has grown tired of being a member of the Heathers, the most popular clique at Westerberg High -- three girls named Heather cruelly run the school through bullying and intimidation, and even though she likes the social benefits of being popular, Veronica doesn't approve. It seems like her options to remedy the situation are few until she meets the handsome new kid in town, J.D., who convinces Veronica to play a trick on a Heather that "accidentally" results in her death, which they cover up as a suicide. Suddenly the bodies around J.D. and Veronica are piling up, and Veronica decides to take matters into her own hands.



Why you should watch it: Heathers is the original Mean Girls, except WAY darker (interestingly, it was written by the Mean Girls director's brother). The sheer absurdity of Heathers makes the outsized violence seem reasonable, and it pokes fun at everything and everyone in the high school ecosystem, providing a biting social commentary on bullying and teen suicide. 

Mostly, though, Heathers is a creepy but always darkly funny satire filled with ridiculously awesome catchphrases that examines the consequences of the way we treat each other, in high school and beyond. 

3. Rushmore

          Released: February 19, 1999
          Rated: R
          Directed by Wes Anderson
          Written by Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
          Starring Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams
          Genre: Comedy, Drama


What it's about: Max Fischer, a precocious and fanciful fifteen-year-old with a penchant for every variety of extracurricular activities, struggles academically at Rushmore Academy. He develops a crush on a widowed first grade teacher at Rushmore, Rosemary Cross, that evolves into an awkward obsession. Max also befriends Herman Blume, a disillusioned industrial magnate with an unhappy marriage and two obnoxious sons who attend school with Max. Blume tries unsuccessfully to convince Max not to pursue Ms. Cross, only to fall for her himself. The three become tangled in a love triangle that could ruin everyone's chances at happiness, while Max searches for his greater purpose in school and in the world.


Why you should watch it: First of all, any film Wes Anderson directs is definitely worth watching; each one is aesthetically beautiful, authentic, quirky, and thought-provoking. Rushmore is a great coming-of-age movie about an awkward teen struggling to find his niche and reconcile his affection for Ms. Cross, a woman twice his age. This sensitive and funny film hits all the right notes as it delicately evokes the experiences of alienation, ambition, and maturation as we learn to become who we are.


4. Office Space

          Released: February 19, 1999
          Rated: R
          Directed by Mike Judge
          Written by Mike Judge
          Genre: Comedy

What it's about: Peter Gibbons and his fellow software engineer friends hate their jobs at Initech. Their boss, Bill Lumbergh, recently hired consultants to downsize the company, which means that people are definitely getting fired. Peter's life with his cheating girlfriend in his crappy apartment seems to be going nowhere until he is hypnotized to relieve work stress by a therapist who keels over and dies before he has a chance to bring Peter out of the hypnotic state. Peter is left totally freed from his concerns about his own life, including work, and he plots with his friends to bring Initech down from the inside.


Why you should watch it: Like Heathers, Office Space is a brilliantly executed satire, this time about what it's like to work at a job that doesn't appreciate you. I love this movie because it's hysterical, full of quotable quotes that never lose their humor, and SO ACCURATE about the work experience it represents, even when it exaggerates. The daily frustrations of Peter's life are so relatable, too. Secondary characters in this movie make it even funnier, especially Milton (played by Stephen Root), who is so pitiful he will break your heart (until he gets his revenge, that is). 

Rooting for the underdog has never been more fun than in Office Space, and it is a must-see before you enter the professional workplace... or any workplace, really. Also, you will clutch your contemporary technology close in appreciation after a crappy printer meets its messy end at the hands of angry employees and some baseball bats.

(Weird side note: I didn't realize until now that Office Space and Rushmore were released on the same day!) (There's no good reason for me to have known that, btw. I was only 11.)

   

5. Labrynth

          Released June 27, 1986
          Rated: PG
          Directed by Jim Henson
          Written by Terry Jones, Jim Henson, Dennis Lee
          Starring Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie


What it's about: Fifteen-year-old Sarah is stuck babysitting her baby brother Toby after getting into a huge argument with her stepmom and being ignored by her father. The situation only gets worse as Toby won't stop fussing, and Sarah angrily discovers that her stepmother gave Toby her favorite teddy bear. She wishes that Toby would just disappear... and suddenly he's gone, stolen away by goblins that she didn't believe were real until now. Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie being amazing, as usual) materializes and makes her a deal: either consider her wish granted, or solve Jareth's twisting, ever-changing maze to find his castle and save baby Toby from being turned into a goblin forever. Sarah accepts the challenge, and the thirteen hour countdown begins. With the help of the dwarfish creature Hoggle and a cast of unusual characters, Sarah puzzles her way through the Labyrinth in search of her brother, and on the way she embarks on the adventure of a lifetime.


Why you should watch it: Sadly, Labyrinth was the last feature film directed by the brilliant and truly inimitable puppeteer Jim Henson. This movie is dear to my heart, as is pretty much all of Henson's work. Sarah's coming-of-age story involves rejecting her own selfishness to save baby Toby and realizing that even though she's growing up, she still needs to hold on to her dreams and fantasies. There's lessons in this movie about not rushing your childhood along, about refusing to outgrow your imagination.

But I mean, c'mon. It's PUPPETS. REALLY GOOD ONES. AND ALSO DAVID BOWIE. Plus I still love fairytales, and Labyrinth gets me every time because it is just so much fun.

There's another big reason why this movie is so special to me. I excitedly showed Labyrinth to my (now fifteen-year-old) brother a few years ago, and about half-way through he looked over at me like I had recently grown a second head. As in, wtf is this crazy movie and why are you making me watch it. And I realized that the youngest millennials and Generation Z (iGen, Plurals, whatever you want to call it) grew up on CGI. There's almost no CGI in this film at all, the exception being an owl in the opening sequence, which was the first CGI of a realistic animal in a film.

Think about that.

Everything magical you see in this movie was physically handled by actual people. I love Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal (another great movie you should watch) and all the other Henson Company creations big and small because we will probably never see that kind of craftsmanship regularly in movies ever again. And don't get me wrong, I loooove Pixar and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But something about it just isn't the same. Anyway. /rant



And so, the first half of the list is complete. All this talk of David Bowie means that I'm off to dance around my living room to Modern Love. 

Tune in next week for Part Two (#6-10) of the Top 10 Cult Movies for Teens (IMO). Comment any thoughts about my esteemed selections so far, and let me know if you've watched any of these films on my recommendation -- I really want to know what you think!