Monday, April 20, 2009

Real Girl vs Winter Girl

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
5Q 4P; Audience: (J)/S

Horrifying. Mesmerizing. Shocking. Tragic. Heartrending. Devastating. Exhausting. Unforgettable.

Back when Lia was a real girl, her parents weren't divorced. She had a best friend. She wasn't a fat pig. She wasn't starving herself. She wasn't cutting. She wasn't a wintergirl.

Wintergirl. Dead girl walking. That's what the kids at school call her. Being a wintergirl is just fine with Lia. That way she doesn't need to feel anything. But it doesn't really work that way. Lia feels too much. She just wishes she didn't feel anything. That was easier before Cassie died, before Cassie started haunting her, leaving her scent of cinnamon, cloves, and sugar hanging in the air along with her accusations and her entreaties to join her on the other side.

Lia and Cassie were best friends, right up until they weren't. They played together, got crushes on boys together, hated their parents together, got drunk together. They made a pact together: they would be the skinniest girls in school. ("But I'll be skinnier than you," said Lia.) Cassie binges and purges. Lia starves herself. They'll stay strong together. And then one day, Cassie turns her back on Lia. She won't even speak to her. Which is why, months later, Lia doesn't answer the phone when Cassie calls and calls and calls. (1...2...3...8...10...15...18...22...25...29...30...31...31...32...33. Silence.) Cassie is talking to her now. Now that she's dead, Cassie won't stop speaking to Lia, creeping into her room at night, following her to appointments, haunting her. If Lia stays strong, maybe she can make Cassie go away. Maybe she can make everything go away.

Musings and Quotes:

This was an achingly difficult and utterly engrossing book. While making note of some of the lines I wanted to quote, I also wrote "I feel trapped." There were times I felt I couldn't breathe. I could read only thirty or forty pages at a time before I had to take a break from it. But not everyone will feel that way. I handed the book to my fifteen-year-old niece and she didn't pick her eyes off the pages until she finished it less than four hours later.

The use of strikeouts ("my parents Dr. Marrigan and Professor Overbrook" or (paraphrasing) "I just want sweet, creamy, delicious ice cream slipping down my throat dry toast") to show the difference between what Lia thinks and feels and what she'll allow herself to acknowledge is brilliant.

There's a quotable line on every page (every paragraph). The language is evocative and the imagery is stunning. I know that I'm going to get hundreds of hits on this page, because that's what happens when I quote from Laurie Halse Anderson. Please, do yourself a favor. Read the book. Let yourself be moved by it. Quotes can give you the flavor of a book, but they can't do justice to it.

"Here stands a girl clutching a knife. There is grease on the stove, blood in the air, and angry words piled in the corner. We are trained not to see it, not to see any of it. (...body found in a motel room, alone...) Someone just ripped off my eyelids." (p. 4)

"If I weren't so tired, I'd shove trust and issue down the garbage disposal and let it run all day." (p. 6)

"Last week's Thanksgiving was artificially sweetened, enriched with tense preservatives, and wrapped in plastic." (p. 30)

"Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of strange little girls screaming through their fingers...I scroll through our confessions and rants and prayers, desperation eating us one slow bloody bite at a time." (P. 112)

" 'What words are in your head right now, Lia?' Pissed. Pig. Hate...Jail. Coffin. Cut...Hungry. Dead." (pp. 115-116)

"I'm sure she's [Lia's mother] waiting for me in the family room, temperature at fifty-eight degrees, her lecture notes neatly arranged with my faults and mistakes listed in order of priority. She has charts to prove everything I do is wrong, and that my only hope is to allow them to insert her stem cells in my marrow so she can grow a new her dressed in my skin." (p. 148)

"Cassie opens her Pandora's box every night and hitches a ride to my room. She doesn't watch from the shadows anymore. She attacks. Once the sleeping pill straps my arms and legs down to the mattress, she opens my skull and rips out the wiring. She screams holes in my brain and pukes blood down my throat." (p. 183)

Laurie Halse Anderson has done it again. Wintergirls is going to join Speak as one of the classics of YA literature.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Wake by Lisa McMann
4Q 5P; Audience: J/S (gr. 9+)

Even though I love to sleep, I hate to go to sleep. That's only because I'm a real nightowl, though. Fortunately, I don't have Janie's problem. It's not actually the sleeping that's a problem for Janie. It's the dreaming. When she was eight years old, Janie discovered that she could actually enter people's dreams, see what they're seeing and feel what they're feeling. Ever since, she's been afraid to fall asleep, especially if anyone else is sleeping nearby. What if she accidentally falls into someone's dream? She's seen some pretty unnerving things. Mr. Reed at the old age home? His dreams are about war, being shot, and his body parts falling off. Her best friend, Carrie? She dreams about a drowning boy. And in their dreams, all of these people look at Janie and plead, "Help me. Help me, Janie." How? How can she help them? What is she supposed to do in a dream?

None of these dreams compare to the ones she's been having recently. Sometimes there's a middle-aged man and a younger guy, a huge monster-man who has knives for fingers. And he uses those knives on the older man in horrible ways. Sometimes the dream is even worse. Sometimes the monster-man is coming after her.

Janie doesn't know why she has these dreams or what she's supposed to do with them. She just wishes they would stop. She has nobody to talk to about them. Her mother is an alcoholic who rarely has a sober moment, and Carrie's too busy with her boyfriend. She has nobody else. Except, perhaps, for...Caleb Strumheller? Caleb's been trouble and stoned since ninth grade. But there's something different about him this year. He looks more put together. He even talks to people on occasion. And there's the way he looks at her, the way he seems to see right into her. In some weird way, he seems to be involved in her dreams already. Maybe that means something. What would happen if, for a change, she took a cue from the people in her dreams and asked him for help?

Together, Caleb and Janie begin to puzzle out the secret of her dreams. But there are things Caleb isn't telling her, and Janie's nightmares are far from over.


I didn't know what to expect from this book. I was a little confused when I first began reading it. It took me a while to get used to the jumps in time and to catch on to what was going on. But once I got into it, I was hooked. It's a compulsively readable book. I'm not going to pretend that I couldn't predict what was going to happen in a few instances. This isn't a goes-where-no-author-has-gone-before book. But it didn't matter. The situation was fascinating enough that I just wanted to keep reading. Janie has complexity and her voice is spot-on, and I found her a totally believable character. I thought the evolution of her relationship with Caleb was handled well. On the other hand, I thought she was a little obtuse on the subject of Caleb's and Carrie's secrets. But perhaps that's because I have a few years on her.

I was surprised when I looked at the front of the book and found excerpts of rave reviews from several review journals. It has 192 customer reviews on (I've never seen more that a dozen there) and 72 on Amazon. How did I miss this book when it first came out? However it happened, I've already made sure that my patrons and I won't be missing Fade, the sequel. It's already on order. (There will be a third book in 2010.) Bring on the lucid dreaming !

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Choose One: Safe vs Real

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
4Q 3P; Audience: J/S; recommended mainly to Gr. 9+

Wow. I started hearing raves about this book months ago from people had received ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies). I told one of my patrons about it and we've both been waiting impatiently for it to finally be published. Now that it's come in, I understand the high praise. It was worth the wait.

Marcelo doesn't operate in the world the way most people do. His condition can't be precisely defined, but he falls somewhere along the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. He has difficulty expressing himself and reacting spontaneously. It's easy for him to get overloaded by visual and aural stimuli, and it's hard for him to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. He is obsessed with music and religion. Marcelo knows exactly how he wants to spend the summer before his senior year: working with the horses at Paterson, his school. It's the perfect job for him. Working with animals is easier than dealing with people, and Paterson is a quiet, safe environment. He'll be interacting with kids like himself and the teachers and staff members who work with them. His needs will be understood and nobody will challenge him. But his father has other plans for him. Arturo has never really accepted Marcelo's diagnosis or believed that Paterson was the best place for him. He thinks it's time for Marcelo take his place in the real world, where he'll be challenged, not coddled the way he is at school, so he's arranged for Marcelo to work in the mail room of his law firm. And he thinks Marcelo should attend the local high school for his senior year instead of returning to Paterson. Marcelo is resistant, but he has to admit that his father has always been fair to him and he thinks he can trust him (if trusting him means believing him). He reluctantly makes a deal with his father: If Marcelo works in the mail room and succeeds in following the rules of the real world for the summer, his father will let Marcelo decide which school to attend in the fall. If he doesn't succeed, Marcelo will attend the local high school.

Marcelo's experiences at the law firm range from comfortable enough to deeply upsetting. Though he knows that his boss, Jasmine, wanted someone else to get his job, she is patient with him. She doesn't overwhelm him with talk and she trusts him to do the job properly once it is explained to him. It surprises him to realize by mid-summer that they've actually become friends. But there are other people who are less willing to accept Marcelo's idiosyncrasies, and they make it difficult for him. And Wendell, the son of the other partner in the law firm, intends to take as much advantage of him as he possibly can. Marcelo's been warned about Wendell, and it's advice worth heeding. Wendell wants something from Marcelo, and he makes it clear that if Marcelo doesn't come through for him, he'll make sure Marcelo comes out on the losing end of his deal with his father.

It's stressful enough for Marcelo to have to deal with the demands, both work-related and interpersonal, of his job. But his stress level gets unbearably high when he comes across information about a major lawsuit the firm is a part of and realizes that the world isn't black and white and neither are people's motives. What should he do with this information, and what will it cost him in the end?


Many things come into play in this beautifully written book, including friendship, love, trust, sex, good vs evil, and morality. Almost all of it worked for me. Whether it's by having Marcelo explain his own thought processes or in his conversations with his mother and his rabbi counselor/friend, I loved the way Stork illustrated how Marcelo perceives the world and why things that seem unworthy of remark to most of us cause Marcelo to question them. I was rather fascinated by how his mind worked and by what processes he arrived at conclusions. In an odd way, I felt privileged to be given this entry into his world.

I appreciated exploring the dynamics of Marcelo's various relationships. I just this moment realized that the people Marcelo finds easiest to relate to (his mother, his sister, his rabbi counselor, Jasmine) are all women. He's perplexed by his father and frankly frightened and confused by Wendell. Hmmm. I wonder if there's any significance to that.

Without going into specifics, I have some quibbles. I felt there was an inconsistency between what Jasmine says and what she does, mostly in regards to Vermont issues, and some of the scenes in that section of the book felt somewhat out of place with the rest of the book. And despite the growth Marcelo makes over the summer, I still felt that certain things play out too patly in the end, which made me change my initial rating from a 5 to a 4.

I'd recommend this book to high school readers, who will most appreciate Marcelo's struggle with moral dilemmas and following his own dreams vs his father's, and relate to his attempts to understand interpersonal relationships, including sexual ones. It will require a somewhat patient and mature reader who enjoys books that have as much to do with interior events as with outside action.
It is also a book that I would have no hesitation about recommending to adults, whether they self-identify as appreciators of young adult literature or not.

Quote: The world will always poke you in the chest with its finger.

That line really struck me when I read it. I liked the insight it gave into Marcelo and perfectly illustrates that he sees the world as threatening and oppressive. But in the larger context, it's just such vivid, evocative imagery.

There were other things worth quoting, but I had to give the book to my impatient reader before I really had the chance to search through it again for things I didn't write down when I should have!

Citing book titles - an answer

In a very recent post, I asked for a source that indicates how titles should be displayed on the web. I just browsed again and found, which says:

When composing Web documents, avoid underlining. Instead, use italics for titles, for emphasis, and for words, letters, and numbers referred to as such. When you write with programs such as email that don’t allow italics, type an underscore mark _like this_ before and after text you would otherwise italicize or underline.

So, okay, I'm going to run with that. Goodbye, <> and < /u >!

I realize few people really care about this, but it's been bugging me for a long time now. As a librarian, I should have been able to find my answer faster and more easily than I did, and I'm just glad to have it settled. And now I'm finally going to start writing about Marcelo in the real world.