“The Monstrumologist” by Rick Yancey, reviewed by Bear Schacht…an actual teenager!

Recently, there was a bit of online outcry when it was announced that Simon & Schuster had decided not to continue Rick Yancey’s Printz-Honor winning series The Monstrumologist.   After much protest from fans, word came down that there would be a fourth book in the series, huzzah, good work fandom!

BUT!  Fandom must never rest!  A group of bloggers, myself included, decided it was still really important to get the word out about the publication of the third book in the series, The Isle of Blood so that, hopefully, new readers would find their way to this amazing series.   The Isle of Blood goes on sale September 13. As a celebration (and publicity push!) we’re all taking turns posting about how amazing The Monstrumologist is.

You can read posts all this week and next week at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy, The Book Smugglers, and Stephanie Reads.  And here at my blog, the rest of this week is a Monstrumologist party up in here!  Tomorrow, I have a super-special guest post from Rick Yancey himself discussing the origins of  the series and on Friday will be a blog/review from me and a chance for you to win your very own copy of The Monstrumologist so you can start the series and see what everyone was so excited about.

Today, however, I’m going to post a special guest review of The Monstrumologist, one sure to get you psyched for the giveaway  … one written by that rarest of creatures (gasp!) an actual teenager. 

I don’t even remember the first time I met Bear, but I am sure we were thick as thieves from the very first moment.  Bear is one of those teenagers you cross your fingers for, the kind you go into library services hoping you’ll get to serve.  He wants to talk to you about books and movies and the world.  He’s bright, inquisitive, clever, and an influencer on other teens.

Bear is also a voracious reader who reads across a variety of genres.  Bear is the kind of reader, the kind of patron, it’s actually rather easy to forget about.  Teens like that, after all, don’t need that much help from us, right?  They find books, they read no matter what, we don’t have to worry about getting them through the doors!

And yet!  Bear wants and needs just as much reader’s advisory as any reluctant reader.  So when I have the chance to connect him with a book, I know that an actual connection will be made – that this is a book that will be relished and analyzed and loved.  

Putting The Monstrumologist in Bear’s hands gave me that sweet rush of anticipation and pride you always get from good reader’s advisory.  “This,” I thought as he checked it out, “is why I do what I do.  This is gonna be true love.”

Thanks to Bear for being a patron that makes  my job worthwhile, for insisting I read Leviathan, and for writing this review and letting me share it with all of you.  Find your patron like Bear at your library today and put this book in his or her hands.

It’ll be true love.

Mon-strum-ol-o-gy    n.

1: the study of life forms generally malevolent to humans and not recognized by science as actual organisms, specifically those considered products of myth and folklore

2: the act of hunting such creatures

It was a spring night in 1888 when Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, was called out of bed by the arrival of a grave robber who had found something more gruesome and terrifying than anything the twelve year old boy had yet experienced in his year of working for the doctor. The find launches them into a case of nightmarish monsters, some human, and some very much not.

There were so many things I loved about this book; I almost don’t know where to start. The cast of the story included some really interesting characters, characters that not only stayed interesting, but got more interesting as the story went on.  Doctor Warthrop struck me as being similar to Sherlock Holmes in many ways, if Holmes hunted monsters instead of criminal masterminds. You also get the sense that there is something more to Will Henry than meets the eye, though I can’t really put my finger on what it is. Of course, Dr. Kearns (if that is his real name) is the scariest character I have encountered in a long time. He definitely knows about monsters, and you know how they say it takes one to know one…..

Then there was the gore, something that you can’t ignore with this book. I have the habit of eating while I read, but if you are at all weak of stomach I would not recommend doing so with this book. I am not usually the biggest fan of gore and horror, but this was different. The way the story was told had the perfect blend of emotion-capturing horror as well as the slightly detached journalistic reporting of facts. With these two flavors of storytelling working together, even the most over the top grotesque parts of the book seemed more believable and less gratuitous than other horror I have read.

I could go on about this book some more, but I would much rather go read the sequel now. I guess that means you will just have to go get the book and read it for yourself, but remember that “Yes my dear child, monsters are real. I happen to have one hanging in my basement.”

(you can also read Bear’s review at Check It Out!, my library’s teen review blog, where he has written MANY other reviews.  But since that blog isn’t open for comments, I wanted to cross-post here.)


Blog Birthday! (and a chance to win “Ruby Red” by Kerstin Gier!)

Yesterday was my  blog’s first birthday!

Happy birthday, blog!

It’s been a really great year, even though I am the world’s slack-iest blogger.  (my excuse for not being more present in May is that I was moving.  Yeah, that’s it.) I couldn’t even begin to list the highlights, there were just too many to list.  Thank you so much to everyone who reads and comments, whether you’re in the library/publishing world or not.  (but especially if you’re in the library/publishing world, as you’re my peeps! ♥)

So, in honor of my blog’s birthday I thought it was the perfect time to give you, dear readers, a present!  YAY!

The awesome folks at Macmillan contacted me about hosting a giveaway for Kerstin Geir’s Ruby Red and I was excited to say yes because this book has been at the top of my TO BE READ list for months!  How to count the ways I am excited about it?  It’s the first in a series, originally published in German, it’s already a huge international bestseller, and it’s about a time-traveling society and a girl who has untapped powers.  Need I mention there’s a charming fellow time-traveler?  Um, hello.

Here’s the official blurb from Macmillan, which I hope will make you as giddy as it made me:

Gwyneth Shepherd’s sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era!

Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon–the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.

You can find lots more goodies at the Macmillan page for Ruby Red including an audio excerpt and the first chapter of the book.

There’s also the super-sweet book trailer …

I KNOW, RIGHT? So, I know you are dying to have your very own copy and, thanks to the kind folks at Macmillan, I have one to give away. What a great birthday present! 🙂

All you have to do to enter is:

  • Be a resident of the US or Canada
  • Comment on this post no later than June 15th
  • Wish my blog happy birthday!
  • (and, for fun, you can mention one of your favorite books featuring time travel. But that’s not required!)

Thanks to Macmillan for the giveaway and THANK YOU, each and every one of you, for reading and being part of my radical first year. I hereby resolve that year 2 shall be full of even more posts, reviews, prizes, and fat acceptance. I can’t wait and I hope y’all stick around!


“Bitter End” by Jennifer Brown

Cole is a nice guy.  And Alex is lucky to have him for a boyfriend.  He’s a sports star and charming and likable; he encourages Alex’s poetry and thinks she’s special and he’s not afraid to pursue her or embarrassed to let her know how much he likes being with her.  Loves being with her, actually, wants to be with her all the time.  It’s flattering, really, how much Cole likes Alex.  That’s the way love is supposed to be, after all, and that shows how much Cole likes her, how really into her Cole is.

Isn’t this what every girl wants?

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains an excerpt from Jennifer Brown’s Bitter End, a book about a teenage girl in a physically abusive relationship.  The excerpt, like the book, depicts graphic domestic abuse.  Due to the potentially triggery nature,  the rest of this post is under a cut.

That would never be me.



[Read more…]


There Are No 50 Books “Everyone” Should Read (Give Away post!)

After our teen group meeting, a group of boys split off and starting playing Super Smash Brothers Brawl and a group of teen volunteers came into the room and started eating leftover cake and ice cream.  It was a fun atmosphere.  One of the teen’s boyfriend arrived and looked around.  “Um,” he said slowly, pointing at the boys playing video games.  “Doesn’t this, like, go against the point of, um, book club or whatever?”

Another boy jumped in.  “No.  It’s not about – it’s like.  This is our big-party-fun-time.  It’s – this is where – we can – ” he couldn’t seem to get the right words out.  I tried to help.

“It’s that the library is about fun,” I supplied, smiling.  “You don’t have to think about school or homework or getting into college if you don’t want to.  You can just come and hang out and enjoy yourself. ”

The TAG kids nodded emphatically over the smashing sounds of Mario.  That’s it exactly.

Fun.  Remember that?  Enjoying yourself?  Remember that?  Last week, I returned to my alma mater for my favorite, hands-down my favorite, professional conference: Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival.  Lots of amazing things, more amazing things than I could imagine, happened.  I had the chance to interview Gary Schmidt for half an hour for an article for VOYA and David Diaz gave me a packet of cherry Pez for blow-drying one of his paintings.  I also had the chance to hear Roger Sutton give the Ezra Jack Keats lecture.  The lecture was a lot about how Harry Potter changed the field of children’s publishing.  This part was fascinating, of course, and I can’t wait for The Horn Book article that’s sure to result.  BUT it was also a chance for Roger to speak up about the importance of pleasure reading, defending children and teen’s reading choices.  I don’t know how I managed to resist standing up and shouting AMEN!

I was tweeting throughout Roger’s lecture and here are some highlights from my notes:

  • “Reluctant reader often means they are not reading what we want them to read.”
  • “Kids have always fallen in love with terrible books, libraries need to have them too.”
  • “In my dream library, no one ever says that’s not good enough.”
  • “A librarian’s job is to get out of the way and let the reader choose.”


This all reminded me of the recent flap about the The Independent‘s recent article about “The 50 Books Every Child Should Read.”  While this is a noble effort to be sure it’s also … frustrating and, well, silly.  There are no 50 books “every” child should read.  This is just as silly as that Facebook meme about the BBC’s list of books.  Why should you feel guilt about what you have and haven’t read?  Who came up with that list anyway?  Who is judging you?  When did reading become a chore or a competition or (shudder) a requirement?  Reading is supposed to be fun, remember?

And, with that in mind … here’s the GIVE AWAY part of the blog, huzzah!

A few months ago, Simon & Schuster offered me a chance to do a giveaway on my blog.  I told them heck yeah, because giveaways are awesome.  They’ve given me FIVE signed copies of Elixir by Hilary Duff to give away and I couldn’t be more excited.

Yes, Elixir by Hilary Duff.  Yes, that Hilary Duff.

Are you rolling your eyes yet?  Maybe you are.  But let me tell you – this book might not win the Printz but it’s a fun time.  It really is.  I read it in one sitting and I enjoyed the heck out of it.  It’s soapy and ridiculous and full of details about everything from rainforests to red carpets.  The story involves Clea, a socialite without a care in the world.  Everything changes when her father disappears in the rainforests of Brazil and she decides to go off and try to solve the mystery of what’s happened to him.  This is the first plot element I loved: Clea getting out there and doing something herself, a plot that kicks off without a boy pushing her along.  Hurrah!  (don’t worry, we get to the triangle later.  It’s my favorite kind, too: the best friend or the mysterious stranger.)   Once she gets to Brazil it gets all supernatural-y and there’s reincarnation and a mysterious stranger who Clea can’t help but be drawn to and adventures in the jungle. Now come on.  That’s a fun time, especially for teen readers.   The plot doesn’t quite all hang together and the reincarnation stuff gets a little confusing but, really, I wasn’t reading it for plot, I was reading for jungle adventures and longing looks and a female protagonist with a mind of her own.   This book delivered that in spades.  I wasn’t reading because I wanted to impress anyone (like the BBC) or because someone who doesn’t know anything about my life or my tastes was “requiring” me to.  I was reading for pleasure.  And you know?  That’s required reading to me.

So, thanks to the awesome folks at Simon & Schuster, YOU can win your own signed copy of Elixir.

You can keep it for yourself, add it to your library’s circulating collection, or use it as a prize giveaway.  This really would make a great teen giveaway:  this book was a fun time for me, but teen readers that gobble up paranormal-romances will like it EVEN MORE.  AND it’s signed.  My teens treat signed books like gold.  Better still, I have five of them to give away and the contest is open internationally.  All you have to do is leave a comment saying you want to be entered and, at the end of this week, I’ll do a random drawing and notify you if you’ve won a copy.

There are no books “everyone” should read, not every child, not every teenager, not every adult.  All of us, every single one, should read what we want.  And we should treat reading like what it IS: a big-party-fun-time.


Fiction As A Lifeline -“The Piper’s Son” by Melina Marchetta

I use fiction as a way to interpret my life and survive my hurts

I was going to try to get to that, like, eventually.  I was going to make a bunch of big grand allusions and metaphors and then, ta-dah, I would reveal it all cryptic-like.  Ooooh, everyone would marvel I see what she did there!  So clever! But really, what’s the point?  Let’s just go ahead and say it: I use fiction as a way to see myself and my life.   I think the best fiction not only does that, not only helps us see ourselves, but helps us see beyond that, see more than ourselves.

And this is maybe what I love the most:  when I connect with a piece of fiction I connect with the world.

I was reading Melina Marchetta’s new novel The Piper’s Son in a restaurant and when the waitress came over to my table to ask if I needed a refill she was startled when I looked up and had tears rolling down my face.  I wanted to tell her, “Hey, it’s OK, don’t worry, I’m just here with my friend Tom and he’s going through a hard time and I really relate and -”

Because Tom Mackee, the main character in The Piper’s Son feels like a friend to me.  More than a friend, he is so real to me as a character that he is not a character any more – he’s just a guy I know.

Except now he doesn’t know what kind of family they are.  What word would define them?  What would they call his family in the textbooks?  Broken?  He comes from a broken home.  The Mackees can’t be put back together again.  There are too many pieces of them missing.

To be succinct: The Piper’s Son is a story about a family dealing with grief.  That’s that.  Someone died unexpectedly and it tore a hole in their family and no one quite knows how to recover.  And, of course, anyone reading that sentence knows how that might sound simple but real grief is the opposite of simple and thus so is this text.  Real grief sneaks up on you, grabs you around the throat when you’re least expecting it, real grief finds you on sunny days in the middle of joy, real grief rearranges everything good in your life and makes you feel stranded.

Tom’s uncle died and his close-knit family couldn’t quite bear the strain of it.  His parents became estranged, his father fell into a bottle, and his extended family, including his aunt Georgie, came unglued too.  Where the story gets particularly interesting, especially for teen readers, is that Tom himself unravels everything good in his life.

Tom had a great group of friends, a band he played with, a girl he was absolutely crazy about and finally going to be with.  But grief, bone deep grief, has pulled Tom away from all that.  (Tom doesn’t know it but his grief, as grief sometimes does, has made him think he’s not worthy of anything good, anything joyful.  Marchetta is such a skillful writer that she never expressly states this, she just lets the reader feel how wrong Tom is –  feel that and want, so madly, for him to realize how wrong he is.)  He shuts out his friends, quits the  band, drives away the girl.  He is alone in a sea of hurt and loss and anger because, of course, this is a book smart enough to know that grief makes you so damn angry sometimes.

This is a book about grief, yes, and how grief blows your life apart.  But this is also a book about how you pick up the pieces from that, how the tidal wave of grief can knock you over but how we find our way back to life again.  At the end of the book one of the characters realizes “I need happiness.  I deserve it.” This seemingly simple statement is, instead, a profound declaration

We begin with everything in Tom’s life in shambles.  The Piper’s Son isn’t the story about how all of this fixes itself and Tom stops feeling bad and he gets the girl.   It is the story of how life goes on, about how your best friends will always come for you and never give up on you, about how grief doesn’t stop but it can lessen enough to let joy in, about how when you love the right girl and she loves you back, well, that can get you through a lot of shit.

I feel like … no matter what I do, I’m not doing this story justice.  Because besides all these ~BIG PLOT POINTS WITH EMOTIONAL LESSONS~ this is just a book that grabs you and doesn’t let go.  It’s funny (Tom is sarcastic and smart and mean and charming too) and real and romantic and passionate.  People in this book  care so much and Marchetta makes you care too.  There’s not a single wasted line in this book, it’s all brilliantly constructed, from the metaphor of Tom losing his interest in creating music to the very subtle and strongly drawn story about fathers and sons that runs through the entire narrative.  Tom’s father, a gregarious fellow everyone loved, lost himself in his grief and we learn the story of his family, how his father went off to fight in Vietnam and never came home and he was raised by his father’s best friend, the man who became his step-father.  All of this becomes part of Tom’s family legend, the grandfather whose body never made it back from war, and it haunts Tom’s relationship with his father.

This is very much a story about family – about how our families shape us and hold us up and even, sometimes, let us down when we think we can’t bear it.  Tom is taken in by his aunt Georgie, who narrates some parts of the book.  I know there might be some concern that teen readers won’t find themselves as interested in Georgie’s story as Tom’s, but I think that the two are inseparable.  It’s important to Marchetta’s larger story about grief to show how it’s an equal opportunity monster: adults, like Georgie, don’t have magical coping skills that make them more able to handle bad things.  And not just grief, Marchetta uses this Georgie’s story to let teens in on the great secret.  We adults don’t have all the answers, you know. We fuck up too.  This is an important point for teens and it’s resonant – we’re all figuring this out, we’re all doing the best we can and making mistakes and trying to go on with it.

This is also a love story.  A big, romantic, heart-stopping love story.  First, it’s a love story between a group of friends who won’t give up on each other, even when things are hard, a group of friends who stick together.  (I think teens are going to love that element.)  But it’s also the love story of Tom and Tara Finke, the girl he pushed away as he slipped into sorrow, the girl he can’t forget.  Tom and Tara are inexorably drawn to each other, through the hurts, through the miles that now separate them.  They reconnect through electronic communications and their stumbling, often acerbic reconnection is awkward and sharp and sweet all at once.  Tom loved Tara Finke but even before grief laid him low he was afraid of his feelings for her – because they were BIG and scary and new.  Now he has to decide what to do with all those feelings, if it’s too late to face up to what they mean to him, to what she means to him.  And Tara, because she is a fully-realized character all on her own, has to see if she can find a way to forgive how badly Tom has hurt her.  Of course, I don’t want to spoil it but I will say the scene between the two of them in the airport is one of the most breathtakingly true and heartachingly awesome things I’ve simply ever read.

Who is the target audience for this book?  Tom and his friends are high school graduates, in their early 20s.  Some parts of the story are narrated by 42 year old Georgie.  Adults could easily read (and enjoy) this title.  So is this a YA book?  Absolutely, without a doubt.  This is a story with lots of teen appeal: a story about figuring out your parents aren’t perfect but you can love them anyway, a story about friends that like you even when they see the worst in you, a story about how being an adult doesn’t mean you have all the answers, it just means you get to get an equal chance at trying to figure it all out.  This is a quintessential YA novel, an exemplary example of what the genre can do when it really tries.

The Piper’s Son is a highly recommended first purchase for all public and high school libraries.  You should go purchase one for yourself today.  And if your library doesn’t have a copy, request they buy one.

Maybe strangers enter your heart first and then you spend the rest of your life searching for them.

Tom Mackee was a stranger to me at first.  But by the end of the book, I’d found him and, better still – he’d found me.  He connected me to the world, he let me cry out some deep hurts, and he reminded me that sadness isn’t the end of the story.  The best fiction shows you the truth of the world and The Piper’s Son is that kind of story.

[must read: Liz’s review of The Piper’s Son.
Reviewed from a copy generously provided by the publisher]


A Chance to Win Flash Burnout & Love for L.K. Madigan

Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan won the 2010 Morris Award.  As most of you reading this blog probably already know, the Morris Award is, and always will be, dearly close to my heart, as I just finished my first ever selection committee work on the 2011 Morris Award Committee.  I heard, first-hand, the way the Morris Award, which is given to a debut novel, changes authors lives.  This year’s Morris reception was immensely moving to me, seeing our three authors in attendance (winner Blythe Wolstoon and honorees Lish McBride and Barbara Stuber) and hearing them talk about what writing meant in their lives and knowing that they the Morris Award recognition was going to make their publishing even a little bit easier, well, it was significant to me.

Knowing that Flash Burnout is in that company, that author L.K. Madigan had a similar journey with the Morris Award, that makes it special to me too.  I think Morris books will always be in my favorites because, in a way, they represent all the struggle and hope and work that goes into getting a book published that very first time.

But Flash Burnout is also special to me because it’s a truly great novel.  This book has high teen appeal and is a good read-alike for John Green and Maureen Johnson fans. Flash Burnout is highly recommended for teens aged 15 and up interested in realistic fiction and books about the artistic process.

Here are six things that make Flash Burnout special and worth your time:

1. a boy narrator.  Yes, it’s true.  Here’s a book with a funny, smart, realistic male lead character.  Blake is a great lead character, you feel for him and care about his choices.  He’s goofy and easily embarrassed and he likes girls and thinks a lot about sex and is perfect for all those boy readers out there some people don’t think exist.  Blake has a realistic, believable arc in the book, you’re rooting for him even as he messes up.   Blake is authentically BOY.

2. no werewolves/vampires/ghosts in sight.  For all those times you need a breather from the world of the supernatural, where vampires sparkle and ghosts can’t wait to date you.  (Don’t get me wrong, I love this genre.  I love that teens love this genre.)  Sometimes you just feel like a story that feels so possible… sometimes stories like that can  really connect with your first-hand experience and mean something in your life.  This is an outstanding example of contemporary, realistic YA fiction.

3. art.  Another outstanding element of the story is the use of photography throughout.  Not only does it provide a thoughtful metaphor for the story of Blake figuring out how he “frames” himself in the world, it also incorporates a lot of photography technique and terminology seamlessly into the plot.  Blake is serious about photography as an art and a craft and it’s really good to see that passion and curiosity for creation and art in a YA novel.  This is perfect for teens that are looking for stories about artists and any that might be interested in photography in general.

4. the tone.  This book has a really unique tone that mixes serious stuff (Blake’s friend Marissa’s desperate search for her meth addicted mother) with funny stuff (Blake’s near constant thoughts about sex and girls) very well and very realistically.  It makes for a really compelling read and the way Madigan masterfully balances the tone keeps you reading.

5. the not a triangle-triangle. Another huge thread in the book is how Blake feels torn between his romantic relationship with a girl named Shannon and his close friendship with Marissa.  In lesser books, this would be some kind of very obvious triangle, with Shannon as a controlling bitch or Marissa as clearly not right for him, but Madigan goes past that – into a deeper more realistic place.  Who hasn’t been in an awkward situation like that?  Who hasn’t wondered if they’re with the right person, if a friend could be something more? This makes Blake’s feelings, his indecision and his confusion, so much more significant, so much more believable.  It’s harder but it’s more true and, in my opinion, that’s something all YA novels should strive for, plot-wise.

6. the family ties.  Yes, this is a book about a girl who is searching for her estranged, drug addicted mother.  But wait, don’t despair that you’re reading yet another dysfunctional family YA novel.  This is also the story of Blake’s family – Blake’s funny and loving and kind of weird and very supportive family.  Blake’s parents trust him and support him and talk with him and want to help him but also believe he can make the right choices.  IT’S KIND OF A MIRACLE OF AWESOME, basically.

Sounds pretty great doesn’t it?  I hope you’re bumping it to the top of your to-be-read list.  I hope you’re reserving a copy at your local library right now.  Do you want a copy of your own?  Then today is your lucky day!  All you have to do is comment on this entry for a chance to win a paperback copy of L.K. Madigan’s Flash Burnout! (The lucky winner will be chosen at random.)

So why the sudden love for Flash Burnout, you might be asking?  Sadly, last week L.K. Madigan announced that she was recently diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer.  This is a devastating blow to the YA fiction community.  A group of librarian-blogger friends decided we’d all post something about Lisa’s work and offer giveaways of her books on our sites.  Some of us (me included) are also making donations to the American Cancer Society in her name. You can visit these other posts and contests at GreenBeanTeenQueen, GalleySmith, YA Librarian Tales, and Stacked.

We thought this would be a good way to let Lisa know what her work has meant to us as teen librarians and lovers of YA lit.  We also thought it would be a chance to get her books in more hands so more people could share the beauty and power of her words and work.

One of the goals of the Morris Committee is to help debut authors receive more recognition.  I’m not sure I would have ever read Flash Burnout if it hadn’t been for the Morris.  I am so glad I did.   I hope you give Flash Burnout (or her second book The Mermaid’s Mirror, a delicious fantasy) a read so that you can share in the power of her work.  For L.K. Madigan, I think (I hope) that this is the best way to spread some the blessings and gifts of her life – through getting her writing out far and wide.

Our thoughts are with you, Lisa, and we’re so grateful for your gifts.


The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

This was life in Gentry — going to school every day, blending into a world where everyone was happier to ignore the things that didn’t fit, always willing to look away as long as you did your part.

Otherwise, how could they go on living near their neat suburban lives?

When I was little, all I really wanted to be was my sister.  I wanted to wear her clothes and her earrings and listen to her music and do what she did.

Most of all, I wanted the things in her world that were forbidden to me, specifically the shelves of books in her collection that were literally out of my reach, on a high shelf  in her room.  Those were her “grown-up” books, the ones I wasn’t old enough for yet.

Of course, eventually, I managed to sneak one off the shelf and out of her room.  I was 11 years old.  It was the biggest book I had ever seen and my first “grown-up” book.  I settled in one summer afternoon with my sister and mother out of the house and started reading It by Stephen King.

Naturally, I had nightmares for weeks after, got in trouble for stealing my sister’s book, and never looked at sewer grates or clowns in the same way.  That was the first time I understood what horror fiction was, how different it was from every book I’d read before: how exciting and frightening and weird and challenging it was.  Twenty years later, that summer afternoon and that creeping, crawling fear in the pit of my stomach and back of my neck came back to me in a rush when I sat down with Brenna Yovanoff’s The Replacement and found myself pulled, entirely, into her fictional world of Gentry, where very bad and very scary things happen while the citizens pretend not to see.

What I Love About This Book

Yikes.  I loved that this book scared me.  I loved that this book freaked me out.  I loved that this book stuck intense, vivid images in my head that wouldn’t go away.  I loved that this book wasn’t messing around.  I loved that this book had a messed up, complicated romance but wasn’t a paranormal romance.  I loved that this book was about the power of love, fierce, angry, insistent love, that can keep you alive against all odds.  I loved that this book got under my skin.

The Replacement of the title is Mackie Doyle.  Mackie was left in a crib in place of a human child but instead of dying like most replacements, Mackie lived.  Now 16, the human world is slowly poisoning Mackie, because he was never meant to live this long amongst humans.

Let’s look a little closer at that description, shall we?  One thing I love about Yovanoff’s universe is the fact that everyone in Gentry knows that something is wrong in their world: there’s no dancing around the fact that horrible things happen there.  It adds to the sense of impending doom, of something ominous and terrible happening.  Yovanoff knows it’s worse, it’s so much worse, to know that something is wrong but to not make that something explicit.  So, Mackie is a replacement, his family knows it, his friends suspect it, and everyone in Gentry knows that replacements exist, that sometimes human children go missing and other things, other creatures, not meant to live long in the world show up in their place.  Why the citizens of Gentry are OK with knowing this happens and why they don’t really do anything about it, well . . . finding that out is part of tension of the story.

Now onto the “human world” part.  Yes, another thing that makes this book so special is the seething, teeming other world that exists alongside Gentry, a place called Mayhem.  Mackie will, of course, eventually find his way to Mayhem and confront the many creatures who live there, those that are both kin and enemies of his.  Yovanoff’s writing really takes off here, Mayhem is a fantastic, upsetting place, where things are both threatening and familiar.  My favorite part of Mayhem is definitely the ruler: the Morrigan, a little girl you won’t soon forget.  The Morrigan is cruel and kind, helpless and powerful, playful and lethal.  She springs to life off the pages, fully formed and feral.  Like Mackie, you find it hard to understand or resist her.  Besides Mackie, the Morrigan is  probably my favorite character in the book.

And, oh, Mackie.  I LOVE YOU, MACKIE DOYLE.  Mackie’s a great character, that strange boy from school who was oddly out of pace with everyone else, something was off about him, but you never knew what.  The world literally hurts Mackie, but he can’t help but want to be a part of it, to feel and taste and experience rock shows and hanging out with his friends and flirting with a popular girl at a party.  But the lingering wrongness of Gentry, of what Mackie is and how he’s lasted so long, makes that almost impossible.  In other words, all this is really a clever, sharply drawn metaphor for adolescence itself: the pain of growing up, of fitting into a world that sometimes hurts, of feeling you’re a freak in a  literally hostile world.  But it’s also a story of rejecting the status quo of “looking away” and pretending that everything in Gentry (in the world) is just fine.  Mackie’s existence proves that’s a lie and now, finally, he’s got to confront what that means and just how far he’s willing to go to look the truth of his town, of his life, in the eye.  Terrible things happen in Gentry, you see, but now it’s time for Mackie to decide what price he’s willing to pay to make them stop.

Yovanoff’s writing is intense and unsparing: there’s violence and gruesome descriptions.  All of this makes Gentry and Mayhem seem very real and very present, that’s what creates good horror fiction, after all, the unsettling, persistent  feeling that all this could maybe happen to you.  And, wow, is this good horror fiction!  Creepy, intense, gross, exciting: characters with claws, characters with slit throats, characters with a mouth full of razor sharp teeth, characters who demand awful sacrifices…this is great, graven, shocking stuff!

I can’t stop talking about The Replacement and one day, while I was babbling about it to one of my teen employees, she threw up her hands and said, “How can you read such scary books?!”

Because when they are as good as The Replacement such scary books are so much fun, that frisson of fear running down your spine, because they keep you constantly on edge, desperate to know what happens next.  The answer, I think, is because such scary books, horror novels, invoke primal reactions, things that ping our “reptile” brains.  The best ones reassure us scary things, monsters, and horrors, might exist, but so do other things, like best friends that stick by you, sisters who love you, good rock and roll songs, odd girls who challenge you, and the ability to stand up and not look away.

The Replacement is one of the best ones!  Perfect for teens looking for intense, quick reads, seriously creepy horror, and something truly original in the YA pack.  It has romance, action, mystery, and dead girls who smell like rotten meat.  I highly recommend it for grades 9-12, it’s going to be a book that gets them talking and keeps them up!

The Replacement doesn’t come out until September, my review copy was picked up from the Penguin Booth at Annual. I’d be giving mine away now, except I plan to make it an end of summer giveaway for my teens, who are already salivating for it after hearing me talk about it. (don’t forget to buy a copy or request your library order one come September!)

In the meantime, you can check out some of Brenna Yovanoff’s awesome short fiction online at the LiveJournal Merry Sisters of Fate,  where she writes with Maggie Stiefvater and Tessa Gratton.

And get ready to stay up late for Mackie Doyle!


Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers,

“We’re the kind of popular that parents like to pretend doesn’t exist so they can sleep at night, and we’re the kind of popular that makes our peers unable to sleep at night.  Everyone hates us, but they’re afraid of us too.”

At least, that’s the kind of popular Regina Afton used to be.  But this?  This is a freeze-out.

I was a mean girl in high school.  (yes, a mean fat girl.  I know, a head-spinner.) I know that term has kind of lost its sting after the movie, after Tina Fey turned it into a punchline.  Don’t get me wrong, I like that movie a lot too, but it’s a comedy, a good comedy, yeah, but it’s a haha look at “mean girls” in high school.  Ah, how quickly we forget.  There’s nothing haha about it.  The Booklist review suggested this book was good for libraries “where Gossip Girl maintains a loyal following” … but there’s nothing glossy, glamorous, or deliciously soap operatic about the betrayals and hurts in this book: that’s what makes them sting.

Courtney Summers’s Some Girls Are is a look at what mean girls are really like, what it REALLY takes to hang with the most popular and most ruthless girls in high school, the ones that make it impossible for their peers to sleep at night.  It is a raw, riveting, unforgettable look at what it means to suffer through high school hell and still have the courage and determination to not give up.  It’s an amazing book.

Regina is part of the clique that runs her school but after one party goes very wrong and she tells the wrong person about what happened, the group quickly turns on her.  Some Girls Are is the story of how Regina faces high school, and her own past sins, in the aftermath of this incident as her friends quickly go about making her life hell.

And make no mistakes: Regina has done wrong.  Kara, the girl in her group who betrays her, was previously humiliated and  ignored by Regina.  Interestingly, Summers suggests that Kara’s (serious) disordered eating was encouraged by Regina’s pressure.  (acting on behalf of Anna, the Queen of their clique.)

Everyone knows Kara used to be fat until the second half of tenth grade, when she learned to stick her fingers down her throat and started popping diet pills.  She had to wear a wig in her class photo because she was losing her hair; you can see it if you look really closely.  It was the pills or the purging.  And those were only suggestions, anyway.

It’s not like I told her she had to do that to herself. (pg. 28)

Wow.  This is an amazing passage that confronts the real-life consequences of all that supposedly harmless body snarking and constant peer pressure regarding weight and looks that happens all too frequently among teens.  Regina has other memories of how badly she treated Kara:

I stood next to her at Ford’s while she bought the over-the-counter diet pills.  And then, from that point on, I watched her melt.  It made Anna happy. (pg. 86)

Kara didn’t just “think she looked fat in these jeans!” – didn’t just say one or hear one negative thing about her weight: she realized that her standing in the group depended on how she looked and decided that standing was worth her health.  This happens more than we’d like to admit, as adults who work with teens, as adults who live in a culture that constantly tells us “just a few pounds more!” and it’s part of what I liked best about this book.

What I Love About This Book

The list could go on forever: The prose!  The characters!  The tension!  The messed up, compelling, utterly irresistible romance!  But, really, all of that comes down to one thing: IT TELLS THE TRUTH.

The truth, the truth I remember, is that high school can be a blood sport.  It was not a laughing matter.  The truth was that adults can look the other way, that the  people you think are your friends can turn on you in the blink of an eye if the “mood” goes against you, that all it takes is a few words to make someone’s life hell.  There’s no looking away from what happens to Regina OR what Regina, herself, did.

There are big questions with no easy answers in this narrative: Regina did terrible things (not the least of them how she pressures, shames, and guilts Kara when it comes to her weight) and now terrible things are being done to Regina.  What I love about this complication is that there’s not an easy answer to if this is fair…  it’s a question that doesn’t really have one answer, just the kind of question teens deserve to be asked more often.  (What else do I love?  Regina doesn’t remain a passive, helpless victim in this cycle: she remembers how the game is played and strikes back in anger and even physically.  Now the story is even more complicated: is it “right” or justified that she does this?  What are the consequences of this striking back?  Can this self-perpetuating cycle ever be broken?  Another big question!)

Summers makes everything happening to Regina feel so immediate, so helpless, so suffocating, that when Regina actually connects with someone else,  a boy named Michael she helped ostracize, their connection feels like a lifeline: urgent, confusing, and vital.  This makes their connection seem tangible and real and oh-so irresistible.  To me, this is 100x more dramatic than some 100 year old vampire.

Everything about this book feels so damn true.

Recommended for: All public libraries and all high school libraries, content and language make this definitely a high school level book.  Also recommended for reluctant readers and fans of realistic stories with a edge.

Comment for a Chance to WIN A COPY OF THIS BOOK!

I hope you can’t wait to read this book!  If you’ve already read it, I hope to hear your thoughts and opinions about it in the comments!   St. Martin’s Press generously provided me with this copy and my library already has a copy, so I’m going to use random.org to select a random winner from the comments.  It could be you!  And if you don’t win, why don’t you go into your local library today and see if they have a copy.  If they don’t, request they buy one.

As for me: I can’t wait to see what Courtney Summers writes next.