Friday, July 31, 2015

HAPPEE BIRTHDAE, Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling!

Two very special birthdays to celebrate today: The Boy Who Lived turns 35, and the enormously awesome J.K. Rowling celebrates her 50th birthday!

I'm sure given the title of this blog, you probably already know I'm a HUGE Potterhead, so I'm celebrating by curling up on the couch with a Butterbeer Frappuchino and The Chamber of Secrets (I'm trying to re-read all the books this summer in between being crazy busy reading for school). 

Note the (in need of a touch-up) tattoo of Hermione's wand.

Of all the fun Potter-related stuff out there online, one of my favorites is A Very Potter Musical, a fan-made musical production from StarKid, "a coalition of writers, directors, actors, and designers dedicated to creating accessible, quality theater for the modern era." They also created and performed A Very Potter Sequel and A Very Potter Senior Year. Darren Criss, who you might know as the actor who plays Blaine on Glee, stars as Harry Potter. The best part? ALL THREE MUSICALS are available on YouTube! Definitely check these out if you haven't already, the fun and catchy songs will be stuck in your head forever.

Just a quick last word before I go back to reading and enjoying my drink: I'm a big believer in embracing your fandom. If you find a thing you love, be proud to love it. Share it with others. If you read a book that you adored, pass it along. If you have a TV show, movie, or video game that you feel passionate about, talk about it. You'll be surprised by how many people share your enthusiasm, and it is so great to find people that love the things you love just as much as you do. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

Where Things Come Back
by John Corey Whaley

Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 24, 2012 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers (First edition published in 2011)
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Mystery
Awards: Michael L. Printz Award, 2012
               YALSA William C. Morris YA Debut Award,
               YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2012

MLA: Whaley, John Corey. Where Things Come Back. New York: Atheneum, 2012. Print. ISBN-13: 978-1442413344. Paperback, $11.99.

Find it in your local library!

Cullen Witter’s summer has been completely upset by a series of strange and unfortunate events in his hometown of Lily, Arkansas – his cousin’s death, his little brother’s disappearance, and the supposed return of a rare bird to Lily that was thought to be extinct. A world away, young missionary Benton Sage suffers a major crisis of faith and searches desperately for meaning in his life. Cullen and Benton’s lives unexpectedly collide with far-reaching consequences in this strange and touching story about grief, love, and hope.

People tend to stay in the small town of Lily, Arkansas; when they do leave, they eventually come back home to the lives they left behind.

Seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter plans to spend the summer in Lily, bored out of his mind with his best friend Lucas and his smart, sensitive younger brother Gabriel. When Gabriel mysteriously disappears, the close-knit Witter family is devastated, and they search for him with the desperate hope that he will return safely.

The citizens of Lily help the Witters to find Gabriel in earnest until the entire town becomes obsessed by the supposed reappearance of the Lazarus woodpecker, which was thought to be extinct until ornithologist John Bartling shows up claiming to have seen one on the outskirts of town. While Lily distracts itself in a frenzy of woodpecker commotion, Cullen grows increasingly frustrated that a stupid bird means more to people than his missing brother.

Meanwhile, a young and disillusioned missionary named Benton Sage returns home from Ethiopia believing that his talents are wasted in such a desolate place. When Benton is all but turned out by his family, his crisis of faith deepens and he dedicates himself to studying the Book of Enoch to find answers to his existential questions. When Benton’s writings fall into his college roommate’s hands, events take a strange, unsettling turn.

The worlds of these two boys collide in the harrowing final pages of the novel with a surprising and heartbreaking conclusion that examines faith, grief, and ultimately hope in Lily, the place Where Things Come Back.

This is one of the best book trailers I've seen in a while because it really captures the feel of Where Things Come Back:

John Corey Whaley made a playlist for Where Things Come Back, listed on Amazon. You can check it out here, via Apple Music.

And here's the Sufjan Stevens song about the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in Arkansas that, according to the author, started it all:

Teen Talk

“I don't read a ton of novels, but I do like to read things like articles…what I do read [of realistic YA] is either is something interesting or something I can relate to.” -Nick K., 15

Where Things Come Back hits the mark on interesting AND relatable. I think all readers can find something to appreciate or recognize in Cullen's story. Plus, this novel is just quirky enough to be unique and interesting, but not so quirky that it feels unfamiliar. Give this one a try!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Two Boys Kissing
by David Levithan

Paperback, 224 pages
Published May 12, 2015 by Ember (First edition published in 2013)
Genres: LGBTQ+, Realistic Fiction, Social Issues
Awards: National Book Award Longlist, 2013
               Lambda Literary Award, 2014
               Stonewall Honor Book, 2014

MLA: Levithan, David. Two Boys Kissing. New York: Ember, 2015. Print. ISBN-13: 978-0307931917. Paperback, $9.99.

Find it in your local library!

Narrated by a Greek Chorus of a generation of gay men lost to AIDS, Two Boys Kissing tells the stories of teens Craig and Harry, who are kissing in protest and to win the Guinness World Record for longest kiss; Peter and Neil, a mostly happy young couple in love; Ryan and Avery, tentatively embarking on a new relationship; and Cooper, who is struggling with his sexuality. As these teens’ lives intersect, they each discover the power of acceptance, identity, and love in a world that is almost ready to embrace them.

A kiss is never just a kiss. For Craig and Harry, a kiss is a tribute to their past love, a way of holding on to each other for just a little longer, a bold refusal to retreat in the face of cruel-hearted bigotry. For Peter and Neil, a kiss is a declaration of current love, a commitment to each other, a bright glimmer of conviction as they face an uncertain future. For Ryan and Avery, a kiss is the anticipation of future love, a moment filled with new affection and a stirring sense of possibility. For Cooper, a kiss is resignation, an empty gesture meant to fill some unnamed void, an silent pledge which he feels he will never be able to deliver.

An omniscient chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS narrates the hopeful, heart-rending stories of these seven teenage boys in various stages of self-discovery. We witness ex-boyfriends Craig and Harry’s difficult journey to beating the record for the world’s longest kiss in protest of their friend Tariq’s savage beating at the hands of homophobic bullies. We follow Peter and Neil as the seams of their comfortable love begin to tear when jealousy and Neil’s “open secret” with his family threaten to rip them apart. We watch candy-haired boys Ryan and Avery meet cute at a small town Pride Prom and go on their first dates, as Ryan struggles to manage his anger at the bigotry that surrounds them and Avery worries that Ryan won’t accept him when he discovers that he is trans. We hold our breath as Cooper, whose parents react badly to accidentally discovering that he’s gay, embarks on a self-destructive series of online hook-ups, desperate to make a human connection and increasingly convinced that there’s nothing left in his life worth living for.

Two Boys Kissing is also so much more than these stories; it is a call to action and activism from a generation in the not-so-distant past, a generation who died as they were just beginning to truly live. They remind LGBTQ+ men and women and their allies that though they may now live in a world of greater openness and acceptance (“We resent you. You astonish us.”), homophobia and hatred and misunderstanding still exist, and we can’t back down or spend our lives afraid. Living means so much more than merely being alive, and readers of all identities will find pieces of themselves in these characters as they embark on the familiar struggle of growing up and discovering who they are. In the end, we look to Craig and Harry to show us the power of bravery and love that can be found in Two Boys Kissing.


Stop what you're doing and go read this book. The writing is absolutely beautiful, the message is clear without being preachy, and these teens will stick with you long after you've finished reading. I never dog-ear books, and half the pages of this one are folded over because I didn't have a pen and paper to write down the gorgeous quotes that litter Two Boys Kissing. I will say that if you're used to a more linear type of narrative (clear beginning-middle-end), this book has one, but it's not as straightforward as most YA lit. The chorus of narrators (which was a risk taken by the author that absolutely pays off) takes a few pages to get used to, but once you do, it enhances the story significantly. I highly recommend this book to ALL teens 13 and up, especially those who may be struggling with identity and acceptance in their own lives.

This video features the author of Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan, giving a brief explanation of the story and reading from the beginning of the book. 

Teen Talk

"[Realistic YA] makes me think about what I would do if I were put in the same situation, it helps me relate to others." -Joel H., 15

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The YA Guide to Book Awards: The Michael L. Printz Award

Looking for a good book to read but don't really know where to start?

True story.
One option is to ask your friendly neighborhood librarian (duh), who will be happy to give you some suggestions. But if you’re still not sure or browsing independently, another option is to check out past and present award winners.

We’ve all seen those shiny award stickers on the covers of books in the library or bookstore (maybe even on the covers of some of our favorites!). Turns out, the books carrying these stickers of glory are “pre-screened” to be awesome. That doesn’t mean you’ll love every award-winning book, but it DOES mean that they’ve been deemed quality reading material by Really Qualified People, and they are definitely worth giving a try.

One of the upcoming Accio Lit book talks will cover Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley, which, I’m not gonna lie, I picked up because of the Printz Award medal on the cover. I had too many books to choose from that I really wanted to read, so an award-winner seemed like a good place to start. And BOY was that a good call… but I’ll save that for another time.

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.

Let's begin with a YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) award, which is specific to the YA audience.

The Michael L. Printz Award

The Printz Award medals. Gold is the winner, and silver is for honor books.

What is it?

According to YALSA:
The Michael L. Printz Award is an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. It is named for a Topeka, Kansas school librarian who was a long-time active member of the Young Adult Library Services Association. The award is sponsored by Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association.
Michael L. Printz was a high school librarian who was extremely passionate about YA literature and ensuring that his students were perfectly matched with the books they needed, when they needed them. He was an active member of YALSA, and he instituted an Author-In-Residence program at his high school. Printz placed a high value on YA literature, and the Printz award "recognizes the best titles in young adult literature in a given calendar year."

Printz winners and honor books can be either fiction, non-fiction, poetry, art, or an anthology. Notably, the award is only given to books in print (no e-book-only titles allowed). The criteria is otherwise pretty broad; YALSA explains, "What we are looking for, in short, is literary excellence." The award is NOT a popularity contest -- the committee looks for quality books in an ever-changing list of criteria. As you will see, a broad cross-section of books have been chosen for this award. What do they all have in common? They are well-written, engaging, and enduring.

Who decides?

The Printz award winner is chosen by a committee of nine, with one chair and eight members, plus a consultant from the ALA book review publication Booklist (who doesn't vote). The committee consists of librarians who are also members of YALSA, and they serve a one-year term. They award one medal per year, and honor up to four other books as well. Librarians (and teens!) can nominate books for the Printz award each year.



Why should you care?

The Printz award is truly a medal of excellence in YA literature. I personally have loved every Printz award winner (and most of the honor books) I've read because they are always unique, smart, well-written, and reflect a variety of genres, which is super important as there are so many different genres represented in YA (sci-fi, realistic fiction, graphic novels, historical fiction, the list goes on). Picking Printz winners is a great way to keep up with past and present gems, and also offers you some challenging but worthwhile reads that will really make you think.

Tune in next week for another installment in the YA Guide to Book Awards!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose edited by Gillian McCain & Legs McNeil

Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose
edited by Gillian McCain & Legs McNeil

Hardcover, 336 pages
Published April 1, 2014 by Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Biography, Diaries, Social Issues
Awards: None

MLA: McCain, Gillian, and Legs McNeil, eds. Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose. Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks, 2014. Print. ISBN-13: 978-1402287589. Hardcover. $15.99.

Find in your local library!

Mary Rose, a 15-year-old rebel with a heart of gold, struggles with bullying, making friends, and fitting in when her weak-willed mother moves her to a new town. Eventually Mary Rose turns to sex, drugs, and alcohol to ease her suffering, and we experience her struggles right alongside her in this heartbreaking series of diary entries and letters that reveal her most personal thoughts.

Published after her death in 1999 at seventeen years old, Mary Rose’s diary chronicles her life in brutal, sometimes harrowing detail as she struggles to find companionship, battle addiction, and survive a cystic fibrosis diagnosis. Though Mary Rose often writes with a stunning lyricism far beyond her years, it’s hard to forget that she’s a frustrated, lonely teenager as she records her angst-y bitterness at the world with rare bursts of uninhibited joy when things occasionally go her way. Mary Rose had a tough life, and sometimes it’s difficult to read about the poor choices she made, the anguish she suffered, and the way she was treated by people in her life who supposedly cared about her. A gritty, honest portrayal of teenage life, Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose is an important and honest account of the struggles of chronic illness, addiction, and abuse that many teenagers like Mary Rose must face every day.

I have been struggling for a week to figure out exactly what to say about Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose. How do you review someone’s most personal thoughts and feelings, recorded without any intention of other people reading them? This book was difficult to read, but it was definitely worth the effort. Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil, who edited Mary Rose’s 600+ diary pages to the condensed version that became the final book, did not change a single word of the text, letting Mary Rose tell her own story the way she originally recorded it. Because of the very light editing, there’s not much of a narrative flow to Dear Nobody, which might bother some readers who are used to the solid structure and flow of the typical YA novel. But what you get in return is an open door into the world of a girl you want to befriend, want to help, and want to save. The whole time I was reading this book, I wanted to reach inside and give Mary Rose a big hug and tell her she’s not alone, even though it may seem like it. It is important to note that this book is quite graphic and sometimes shocking in its portrayal of addiction, sexual assault, and abuse, so more sensitive or younger readers might want to steer clear. If you can handle these tough subjects, though, I definitely think Dear Nobody is worth the struggle.


Mary Rose’s life was too brief and she gave up a lot in the face of her terminal diagnosis, but the moments of hope and her vibrant personality make Dear Nobody an important addition to the canon of YA non-fiction. I recommend this one as a good pick for mature teen readers (14 and up) looking for a gritty true story.

Gillian and Legs's interview with School Library Journal is definitely worth a read. The "final thoughts" at the end really add another layer of depth to Mary Rose's story.

The book trailer from the publisher offers a great example of one of Mary Rose's diary entries.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Every Flavor Bean: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

So, I should start this week's Every Flavour Bean by explaining exactly what I mean by Every Flavour Beans

Harry Potter fans will recognize Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans as jellybeans in the wizarding world that are just as likely to be delicious as they are to be disgusting. They come in every flavor imaginable, including "dirty sock" and "earwax," and even though you're never sure which one you're about to eat, you've got to try them anyway. That's kind of the idea here.

Every week (or so), I'll be posting something book-ish, but not necessarily about a specific book or a review. These posts will be about all kinds of stuff like movies, art, web series, podcasts, theater... anything I find that I think might be of interest to you. I will MOST DEFINITELY be taking suggestions, and weighing in on what's out there in YA-land right now, for better or for worse.

To start off this week, I should let you know that I'm a huge Jane Austen fan. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Northanger Abbey (which I feel is highly underrated)... to varying degrees, I love them all.

I recognize that not everyone feels the same way about good ol' Jane (even though all people who disagree with me about this are obvs wrong ;), but I bet I can convince you that her characters and story arcs can be just as interesting in the digital age as they were way back in the 19th century.

Ladies & gents, I give you...


Episode 1: My Name is Lizzie Bennet

If you HAVE already seen this nearly perfect (Emmy-winning!) web series created by Bernie Su & Hank Green, move along to Pemberley Digital and check out some of the other classic remakes, especially Emma Approved (adaptation of Emma) and The March Family Letters (based on Little Women), which just ended in June. 

If you HAVE NOT watched LBD... it is a modern-day adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, which reimagines protagonist Elizabeth Bennet as 24-year-old Lizzie, a lovably dorky grad student with a crazy family and loads of student debt, unsure of exactly what her future holds. She narrates this comedy of manners, complete with her fateful meeting and subsequent love story with prickly William Darcy, in "real-time" via her vlog, and I promise you'll be hooked on the lives of Lizzie, Charlotte, Jane, Lydia (and of course, Bing Lee and Darcy!) after just a few episodes. 

I'm interested to hear your thoughts about LBD/Jane Austen in general, and I'm always looking for other fun adaptations of classics, so feel free to comment with suggestions!

I'll leave you with some parting words about Jane Austen from another one of my favorite ladies of literature, Virginia Woolf:
“Anyone who has the temerity to write about Jane Austen is aware of [two] facts: first, that of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness; second, that there are twenty-five elderly gentlemen living in the neighbourhood of London who resent any slight upon her genius as if it were an insult to the chastity of their aunts.”

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Careless Talk Costs Lives: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity
by Elizabeth Wein

Paperback, 368 pages
Published May 7, 2013 by Disney Hyperion (First edition published in 2012)
Genre: Historical fiction, Mystery, Adventure
Series: Young Pilots #1
Awards: Michael L. Printz Honor Book, 2013
               Edgar Award for Best Young Adult, 2013
               UK Literary Association Award, 2013
               Golden Kite Award Honor Book, 2013

MLA: Wein, Elizabeth. Code Name Verity. New York: Hyperion, 2013. Print. ISBN-13: 978-1423152880. Paperback, $9.99.

Find it in your local library!

Queenie and Maddie, spy and pilot, are best friends, working together for the Allied war effort during World War II. When their plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France, captured Queenie must choose between execution and betrayal, and her decision to tell the truth changes everything.

First of all, I beg of you… DO NOT Google this book before you read it. Resist the urge. You don’t want to read any spoilers, trust me. The wait is BEYOND worth it.

Now that we’ve got that covered…

It’s 1943. A British spy plane is shot down over Nazi-occupied France, carrying Maddie (the extremely talented young pilot) and Queenie (spy extraordinaire, and Maddie’s best friend) to their respective fates. Queenie is caught by the Gestapo and imprisoned, where she is forced to put to paper the story of how she got there in the first place, complete with specifics about the Allies’ wireless codes and airfields. Through Queenie’s detailed account of her friendship with Maddie, from their initial meeting through the final ill-fated flight to France, we are graced with a fascinating and heroic tale about war, friendship, and the meaning of truth.

Code Name Verity transports us back in time to life in Europe during World War II, when women’s roles were changing in the midst of wartime duty and for anyone involved in the war effort, “careless talk costs lives.” Maddie and Queenie’s friendship evolves into a deep and rare connection that comes from trusting someone you love in order to survive. These girls are incredibly brave, despite Queenie’s insistence to the contrary when she repeats throughout the book, “I am a coward.” She is in fact not a coward, and it won’t take you very long to figure out that the kind of courage demonstrated by these best friends is the kind we all want to be known for in our own lives.

There’s only so much I can tell you about the plot of Code Name Verity, but I can tell you that this book truly has it all – adventure, history, feminism, friendship, and self-discovery, even some dry humor sprinkled throughout. Just when you think you know where Code Name Verity’s plot is headed, you’re thrown another curveball that will keep you reading long into the night. There is a lot of historical jargon in the book– I found myself looking up Maddie’s different planes to get a better visual as I was reading. (I generously posted a bunch of them for you on my Code Name Verity Pinterest board.) The torture Queenie endures at the hands of the Gestapo is pretty graphic at times, so a warning there if you are bothered more than most by that kind of thing, though I think it adds to the authenticity of the story and I wouldn’t call it gratuitous. Finally, I was unexpectedly weeping (not just crying – actual sobs) at certain points, which speaks to how affecting this book can be and how intense the friendship is between Queenie and Maddie.


I absolutely adored Code Name Verity, coming from someone who is not generally a big historical fiction reader, and I’m looking forward to re-reading it because I want to catch all the clues that I’m certain author Elizabeth Wein (who is also a pilot – how awesome!) cleverly scattered throughout. 

Highly, HIGHLY recommend, especially for fans of historical fiction or World War II, but also for anyone looking for a mystery/thriller with heapings of suspense and strong, totally fierce female protagonists.

Check out my Code Name Verity Pinterest board for images of Maddie's planes!

If you're interested in learning more about the real Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) of WWII, WASP on the Web is a great resource.

Here's the UK book trailer for Code Name Verity: