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perksNancy from Circulation Services provides today’s review of a favorite Young Adult book.

Charlie is not your average high school freshman, as you will read in this coming of age story. In a series of blatantly honest letters to an unknown recipient, Charlie lays out his deepest fears, joys, and struggles while trying to survive his freshman year and deal with his past and the events that shaped him into a wallflower. Don’t be discouraged by the seemingly serious topic, for this story also includes true to life goofy thoughts of teenagers, hair-brained schemes, love triangles, sex, drugs, rock and roll, and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show!” Read on!

Charlie starts his story with the quote,

So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.

As the story progresses it is easy to understand why Charlie questions his emotions as his past is revealed through fragmented details that he intertwines into current events. Befriending a random group of friends, all of whom are a bit different themselves, Charlie begins to make peace with himself. As his gay friend, Patrick, explains, “You’re a wallflower …You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand.” While this is an acceptable definition of Charlie’s personality, it also masks the fact that he remains an observer rather than a participant of many things. This is the part of Charlie that he wants to change, but how?

As he ventures out of his shell, Charlie finds solace in the books his English teacher gives him to read and report on, not as homework, but as a way to instill confidence in Charlie and to foster the thoughts that his opinion matters.

Two of the major themes of this story are identity and secrecy. Each of the main characters struggle with these and in the end find a way to cope with what they can’t change and begin to heal.

This is a quick read, but DO NOT SKIP THE EPILOGUE! It gives some closure for both Charlie and the reader. This book was made into a major motion picture in 2012 and quickly became a sort of cult film for some teenagers.

Check the WRL catalog for The Perks of Being a Wallflower

beforesunriseAlan from Circulation Services shares today’s review of a trilogy he enjoyed.

During a 19-year period Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke appeared in three movies together: Before Sunrise (1994), Before Sunset (2004), and Before Midnight (2013). It remains a unique project, because the second and third movies were never intended to be sequels of the first; rather each movie portrays the relationship between the protagonists in a discrete time-frame – less than 24 hours of a particular day that was important to their relationship. Even though the second and third movies may be considered stand-alones, it makes much more sense to view the three movies sequentially, because each builds upon its predecessor and gives the unfolding events of each plot line background, history, and context.

The story of Before Sunrise is very simple. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are students going home for the holidays who meet on a train; she is French, he is American. When they arrive in Vienna he convinces her to get off the train and explore the city with him before they continue their journeys home the next morning (hence the movie’s title). It becomes obvious that they are attracted to each other, and the movie ends with them agreeing to meet each other at the same train station six months later. Because there is this mutual attraction, you hope that they do meet again.

Fast forward ten years to Before Sunset. Ethan Hawke is in Paris promoting the book he has written about their now long-ago encounter. She attends his book talk, and they decide to spend the afternoon reconnecting before he has to catch his flight home. As the afternoon develops we learn that he is unhappily married with a young child, and she has been unable to sustain relationships. The first bloom of youth has left both of them, and they are both slightly damaged by life. When it is time to leave for the airport, he can’t pull himself away. The movie ends ambiguously – will he catch the next flight home or will they seize the second chance to live their lives together as they and the audience hope?

The third movie, Before Midnight, shows that they are together, unmarried (he is divorced), with two children of their own. Once again they spend the day and night discussing all the ups and downs of their relationship. And most of us who are enamored of these three intelligent movies and their two compelling protagonists are earnestly hoping for a fourth movie that will show us where they are and what they are like as their story continues to unfold.

Check the WRL catalog for Before Sunrise

Check the WRL catalog for Before Sunset

Check the WRL catalog for Before Midnight

The Normal Heart

The_Normal_HeartToday’s post is written by Nancy from Circulation Services.

Let me start by giving a warning – this drama is “R” rated for language, some nudity, and graphic content. Topics covered are AIDS, homosexuality, gay activists, and governmental politics.

In the midst of the heavy drama, based on an award winning play, lie beautiful love stories,  as well as anger, frustration, and feelings of helplessness. The struggles are real. This movie tells the story of the early days of the HIV-AIDS crisis in New York City and exposes the viewer to the sexual politics of the ’80s. A star-studded cast including Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers), Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman), Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), and Alfred Molina (Spiderman 2), take the viewer through an emotional rollercoaster showing the sometimes difficult to watch realities of life for those afflicted with AIDS and those who love and care for them.

Ned Weeks, a Jewish-American writer and gay activist helps to organize a group, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), focused on raising awareness about an unidentified disease killing off an oddly specific group of people: gay men largely in New York City.  Dr. Emma Brookner, a physician and survivor of polio, joins the fight against this little known illness, encouraging abstinence for gay men for their own safety, since it is unknown yet even how the disease is spread. Ned’s brother Ben, a lawyer, is asked to help fund the GMHC, ultimately exposing his apparent homophobia.

In the middle of the struggle Ned falls in love with Felix Turner, a New York Times writer. Throughout the film Ned’s overly explosive activism creates tension with the group. Enter the politics. Ned next looks to Mayor Ed Koch’s administration for aid in financing research about the epidemic that is quickly killing off hundreds of gay men, including some of Ned’s personal friends. The elected leader of the GMHC, Bruce Niles, who is the calmer, more politically correct, and closeted member of the group, tries to keep the peace with everyone using diplomacy instead of accusations and threats to “out” those in political positions. When the virus hits close to home for Ned the stakes are even higher, and so are the tensions and tempers.

As the story concludes with the actual statistics regarding the mortality rate from HIV/AIDS, the one solace to this intense drama is the knowledge that science has made great strides in the prevention and treatment of this disease; and society has also made some progress in acknowledging, if not accepting, that this disease is a global concern, not just someone else’s problem.

This powerful drama is directed by Ryan Murphy and written by Larry Kramer.  It left me thinking long after the movie ended.

Check the WRL catalog for The Normal Heart

jacket (1)Amber Appleton, at seventeen years old, is a busy girl – visiting the elderly at the local nursing home, swapping haikus with a Vietnam veteran, teaching English through R&B at a Korean Catholic church, and looking out for the socially-struggling guys of the “Franks Freak Force Federation.” She is an optimist, a Catholic, and homeless – sleeping in the school bus her single mother drives all day before barhopping at night for Mr. Right Now. Amber makes up for the lack of stability in her life with the diversion she finds in helping and connecting with others. Readers will question whether her pluck, happiness, and faith are in spite of her situation or because of it. Amber’s voice is funny, snarky, and authentic (her language likely influenced by Quick’s former years teaching high school). In the hands of a less skilled author, this could be a gag-inducing after-school special about unlikely triumph, but Quick gives us a real story about relationships, hardship, joy, and emotional survival.

Quick’s novels are engaging because of the authenticity of his characters and interactions among his diverse casts, and Sorta Like A Rock Star is no exception. The characters draw empathy and laughter because they are so carefully crafted to be genuine. Although Quick does not leave out any detail of characterization, the story isn’t bogged down in prose. It is perfectly tuned to a young adult audience, as young adults in my experience seem to have a radar for detecting falseness, and are less patient with wordiness. Young adult readers of realistic fiction will appreciate the funny yet complex characters in realistic circumstances, both humorous and dire.

The audio version of this book was fine, but the adult narration of the story did not always capture the accurate inflection of some of the slang terms, which could be a turnoff for teens. I would recommend the print version of this book to the next reader. Fans of tough and funny lead characters — Catcher’s Holden Caulfield or Whale Talk’s TJ — will enjoy this book, and despite the somewhat cheesy ending, my heart was singing because of my love of the characters. Feel good about Sorta Like a Rock Star.

Check the WRL catalog for Sorta Like a Rock Star

jacketAnda is a skilled player in a multiplayer online game called Coarsegold Online who learns about gold farmers – paid players in the game who simply hunt and gather treasures in the game for other high-bidding players who pay for, rather than earn, these points and tokens. At first annoyed by these illegal “cheaters,” and shortly after hired to hunt them for money, she learns that these gold farmers are overworked, poorly compensated players in other parts of the world for whom gold farming is not just a game, but their livelihood. Anda deals with conflicts with others in her guild in the game, confronts her own conflicted feelings about the gold farmers, tries to allay her parents’ concern about her online behavior, and struggles with right and wrong from different perspectives. I had been waiting since September 2014’s reviews for this book and was not disappointed by this beautiful graphic novel.

Unfortunately, the book starts with what I believe to be a possibly irresponsible misstep by Doctorow–an introduction addressing the gap between those who make and those who consume products today, followed by an oversimplified treatment of this complex problem involving a young person. Sometimes a little information is bad thing for young readers, such that I recommend parents read this alongside their young readers, as well-intentioned Anda’s online actions in the real world could be harmful. I’d have preferred the author let the story stand alone as a beacon of awareness or call to action for those who would interpret it as such.  I don’t think it is for Mr. Doctorow to address young readers “You still have to do the harder work of risking life, limb, personal fortune, and reputation”–this book is aimed at 13-year-olds!  This is my personal, perhaps overprotective opinion, but I will leave you to decide.

Now let’s consider the loveliness that exists beyond the introduction. The artwork is stunning (who could leave that cover on the shelf?), the watercoloring effect giving subtlety and life to the seemingly simple black line drawings; the ruddy cheeks under the stark white big eyes are particularly expressive in many of the characters. I am interested in picking up Jen Wang’s other title Koko Be Good for more. The transitions between online and real life are creatively rendered with dreamlike segues, and online interactions are punctuated with message boxes and buttons to keep even the least tech-savvy reader on track, and to speak to the experienced gamer in the visual language in which they operate. The lead character, Anda, is a smart, sensitive, independent gamer girl with supportive, loving parents in a healthy home–eschewing the trend of abusive or clueless parents in young adult fiction–whose character and friends give readers a spate of female gamer heroines for a change. The cast of characters is fully-developed, showing different sides in the many situations that happen throughout the book which keep the plot moving and interesting.

I recommend this book for graphic novel fans of Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi and Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol.

21490991Matt Miller is a modern day teen in Brooklyn whose mother has passed away from cancer. Partly to start helping his father and partly to distract himself from the fact that everyone seems to pity him, Matt visits the “Cluck Bucket” to try apply for a job, when a emergency cleanup he witnesses convinces him food service is not for him. The local funeral director, Mr. Ray, who coincidentally oversaw his mother’s arrangements, offers him $30 a day to help out around the funeral home when they run into each other this fateful day at the chicken joint. The next day Matt reports after school and helps Mr. Ray set up flowers, receptions, and handle basic arrangements. As Matt’s father descends into drink, Matt becomes both more independent and connected to more people in his community through his work at the home.

The novel chronicles Matt’s coming of age through his work, mentoring by Mr. Ray, and a new friend. This is also a satisfying story about how a young man grows up as a part of his community by opening himself up to new experiences and responsibilities, strengthening himself and, in small ways, his community. In this book we see not only the Brooklyn that challenges, but also the Brooklyn that supports–a refreshing change from the often one-sided negative portrayals in urban fiction of city neighborhoods.

The Boy in the Black Suit moves along at a leisurely pace, and is written with some great descriptions and unique turns of phrase (were I not listening to the audiobook in my car, I’d have written them down). Without dragging, Reynolds lovingly details his characters and the neighborhood, making them real.  An added layer of authenticity comes from the very natural narration by Corey Allen on audio. Some of the coincidences and the neatly-tied ending were the only pieces of the story that did not feel realistic, but these are small criticisms in comparison to the quality of the work overall. This is a novel version of the male coming-of-age story that had me caring about the characters and invested in the story.

I recommend The Boy in the Black Suit to fans of Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk, and Walter Dean Myers’ young adult fiction. This book will be enjoyed by the more thoughtful young adult reader of realistic fiction, and by all ages of readers who enjoy character-driven stories with a strong sense of place.

Check the WRL catalog for The Boy in the Black Suit as an audiobook on CD

jacketThis volume of collected webcomics from Jillian Tamaki was a no-brainer purchase for the Young Adult Graphic Novel collection–it is centered on teen protagonists at an X-Men/Hogwarts-type boarding school, and is written and illustrated by the illustrator of the Printz Award-winning This One Summer. Upon receipt, it was cataloged for the Adult Collection, and when I sat down to reconsider its classification, I was hooked, and honestly doubtful as to just where this quirky volume should reside.

From page one, I compared the smart, sadly existential, darkly humorous tone to that of the late great Charles Addams, whose out-of-print collected works I own (as does the library) and cherish. I have no idea if the young Tamaki is influenced by his work at all, but I was thrilled to discover this texting, blogging, Dungeons & Dragons-playing fictional world that offers the same unpretentious and masterful mix of the sophisticated and the absurd for a new generation. You’ll meet Everlasting Boy, unable to die and doomed to live a teenaged life over and over; lizard-headed Trixie, obsessed with her looks and boys; the optimistic and shape-shifting Wendy; and her cynical friend Marsha, who is secretly in love with her; the laser-shooting Trevor who is dying to fit in; and Cheddar, the popular jock who defies stereotypes in secret. Don’t let me forget the cigarette-smoking performance artist Frances. The teens vary in form from dinosaur-faced, to feline, to human, and range in abilities from physical regeneration to object conjuring, but these aspects of this cleverly created world are second to the teen high-jinks and angst, making it both bittersweet and fun.

Unlike a collected volume of subsequent comic issues or a traditional graphic novel, this a collection of individual webcomic strips which, though ordered, may disappoint readers who like segues and seamless plot sequences. The series also poses more questions than it answers, so that this will appeal to a more literary older teen or adult reader.

In conclusion, I think this volume may live most happily in the adult Graphic Novel collection, as many young webcomics fans to whom this style of work would appeal have already read the run of this series online, and because enough of our teen readership already knows to cross into the Adult Graphic collection for more mature reading. This collected edition will appeal to sophisticated young adult, new adult, and other adult readers of more thoughtful graphic works. I recommend for fans of An Age of License, The World of Chas Addams, and I Kill Giants.

Check the WRL catalog for Super Mutant Magic Academy

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