Review: If I Stay and Where She Went

If I Stay                                                      
Gayle Forman
Dutton Books
2009
978-0-525-42103-0                              

Where She Went
Gayle Forman
Dutton Books
2011
978-0-525-42294-5

I read these two books back-to-back, and unfortunately didn’t enjoy them equally. If I Stay is the story of Mia, a teenage girl whose family has just been killed in a car accident. Mia herself is in critical condition, and she has a sort of out-of-body experience in which she can observe herself lying a hospital bed and see and hear everything going on around her. She has a difficult decision to make – to live, knowing how terrible life will be without her family, or to die and save herself the pain of living without them. I don’t often cry over books, but this one brought tears to my eyes. I know how it feels to lose a parent, but not to lose two parents and a brother so suddenly and at such a young age. Forman’s novel is beautifully written, and her characters are very engaging.

If you haven’t read If I Stay, you should probably skip the rest of this post since it contains spoilers.

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As much as I loved If I Stay, I didn’t have the same feelings about Where She Went. This book is told from Mia’s high school boyfriend Adam’s point of view. At the end of If I Stay, Adam pleads with Mia to come back to him, promising to let her leave Oregon without a fight and go off to Julliard if that’s what she needs, so long as she’s still alive. Mia apparently takes up him on this offer. When she leaves for New York, she never comes back, and eventually stops talking to Adam altogether with no explanation. Where She Went is set three years after If I Stay, and we learn through flashbacks how Adam and Mia’s relationship fell apart. It isn’t until the end of the book that we really find out why Mia broke things off with no explanation, and after all that lead-in, her reasons felt weak to me. I liked Mia a lot in If I Stay, and I hard time reconciling that Mia with the Mia who just left Adam with no explanation. I found the pacing of this book a bit slow as well, and it wasn’t until the last hundred pages or so that I really got interested. While this book demonstrates that relationships are complicated and can change as you get older, I think I would have been perfectly happy just reading the first book.

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Review: Some Girls Are

 

 

 

Some Girls Are
Courtney Summers
St. Martin’s Griffin
2010
978-0-312-57380-5

Regina Afton used to be one of the popular girls at Hallowell High. But ever since rumours started circulating about her hooking up with her best friend Anna’s boyfriend, Donny, at a party, she’s been frozen out. The rumours aren’t true, but no one believes her. Regina forms an uneasy friendship with Michael, a loner whom she used to bully. But when Regina’s former friends start to target Michael, can Regina and Michael’s relationship survive?

I recently read Summers’s first novel, Cracked Up To Be, and loved it, so I was eager to read Some Girls Are. I was not disappointed. A lot of us endure some kind of bullying in our childhood and teen years, but my personal experiences were nowhere near as awful as Regina’s. The Mean Girls in this book are truly frightening, and it makes me wonder how many teens are dealing with similar situations every day. The fact that Regina is a former bully herself doesn’t prevent the reader from feeling sympathy for her. She’s a flawed character for sure, but she comes to realize her mistakes and regret being influenced so heavily by Anna. I also enjoyed Regina’s reluctance to back down. She stands up to her tormentors as best she can and her feelings for Michael are genuine. My only complaint about this book is that the ending felt a bit sudden. I didn’t find it as satisfying as I was expecting to. Maybe that’s what makes it more realistic, but after all the build-up I wanted a bit more. Overall, though, a compelling read.

Let Them Eat…Doughnuts?

There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s intention to make drastic cuts at city hall, including cuts to Toronto Public Library, but perhaps even more attention has been given to his brother Doug Ford’s erroneous statement that Etobicoke has more libraries than Tim Hortons. Even if this were true, would that be a bad thing? Isn’t a little education, entertainment, and all-around free access to information worth a little more than a double-double or an apple fritter? Perhaps if the brothers Ford consumed less Timmies and more knowledge, they wouldn’t have such a negative and misguided view of libraries.

Does Toronto need all of its 99 branches? Truth be told, I don’t know whether all of TPL’s branches are used enough to make them worthwhile, but I don’t think closing any branch is a decision that should be made lightly. Libraries are one of the last public spaces where people of all types can gather, not simply to read books or find information, but just to be around other people. For many, the public library provides essential services such as help finding a job, settlement assistance for new Canadians, a place to learn English, or to learn to read. The library’s programs bring community members together and allow people to connect with others they may never have met otherwise, whether it be at a children’s story time, a teen movie night, or an adult book club. Many of the library’s free programs enable community members to learn new skills, such as a senior citizen learning to use e-mail to connect with family members or a teenager learning leadership skills by being involved in a teen advisory group. Not to mention the thousands upon thousand of print book, e-books, electronic journals, magazines, CDs, DVDs and more that are available absolutely free.

Personally, I can’t afford to run down to Indigo and buy every single book I want to read, nor do I have enough space in my apartment to keep them. Many people who question the importance of the library seem to have the attitude that no one needs libraries because we have bookstores. This view is incredibly ignorant. People who cannot afford to buys books or rent movies or who don’t have access to the Internet at home would argue the library is essential to their day-to-day lives. As for those who believe everything is available on the Internet, they clearly do not realize that what is available for free often doesn’t compare to what the library makes available for free by subscribing to expensive databases so that people can access accurate information. True, you can find a lot of good information for free on the Internet, but not everything, and many people need help differentiating the good from the bad. Librarians can and do help people become better adept at using the Internet to meet their information needs.

Of course, if the Fords have their way, the library as we know and love it may cease to exist. In addition to branch closures, the threat of privatization looms large. I can’t say for certain how this would affect library services, but I do feel uncomfortable with outsiders determining what is best for a community they know nothing about. Even more frightening is the prospect of fee-based services. Many people take the attitude that those who want to use the library should pay for it. I guess that means those of use without school-aged children shouldn’t pay for education through our taxes, huh? The fact is, the people who need the library the most are the ones who can’t pay.

Don’t let the Ford brothers and their ilk ruin Toronto’s vibrant library system. Take a minute to sign the petition, and if you live in Toronto, send a message to your councilor and tell him or her you oppose cuts to the Toronto Public Library.

Review: The Darkest Powers

This was originally posted on another one of my blogs that I no longer update.

The Darkest Powers Omnibus (includes The Summoning, The Awakening, and The Reckoning)
Kelley Armstrong
2010
Doubleday Canada
978-0385670517 

I was very excited to read Kelley Armstrong’s Darkest Powers trilogy. Why? Because she’s well-known, successful Canadian author, and until  recently, I had never read any of her books. This trilogy was on my “must-read” list for some time, but school kept me from reading them for a while.

The books tell the story of Chloe, a teenager with a special ability – she can raise the dead! Chloe’s newfound powers lead to some admittedly strange behaviour that lands her in a group home. But Chloe isn’t the only one who’s special. Her new friends have their own special abilities, too, and now an organization called the Edison Group is hunting them down to try to control their powers. Can Chloe and her friends escape?

What I liked about the series is that unlike some YA heroines, Chloe is fairly competent. She can take care of herself anf stand up for herself. Her stuttering did get old after a while, especially as her confidence build. At times she’s a bit too much of a “good girl” but overall she’s a strong character. The books were full of twists, which kept me turning the pages. Although one of the characters is a werewolf, it was nice to read a supernatural series that wasn’t all about werewolves and vampires. A necromancer is an interesting choice for a heroine and gives teens who love paranormal something a little different. Also…

*spoiler*

I also liked that Chloe didn’t end up with the obvious love interest. It was refreshing that Armstrong didn’t go the predictable route.

Review: The Gathering

 

 

 

The Gathering
Kelley Armstrong
2011
Doubleday Canada
978-0-385-66851-4

Maya Delaney lives in a small medical research town. She’s adopted and doesn’t know much about her birth parents, other than she is part Native. She has a unique birthmark in the shape of a paw print on her hip, which seems fitting given the way animals respond to her. Aside from her innate ability to nurse injured animals back to health, Maya seems like an ordinary teenage girl. Until strange things start happening in the tiny town of Salmon Creek.  Her best friend drowns despite being a star swimmer. A reporter shows up and is found dead shortly after. Maya keeps attracting the attention of the cougars in the nearby woods. And the new guy at school, Rafe Martinez, known for being a player, is taking a sudden interest in Maya for reasons that will shock her.

I was quite keen to read this book after reading and enjoying Armstrong’s Darkest Powers trilogy last year. I found this book to be quite similar in premise, which is great for fans of Darkest Powers who want more stories in the same vein. What I didn’t realize when I picked up this book is that it is actually connected to the Darkest Powers trilogy. I look forward to seeing how this plays out in the subsequent books as well as possible appearances by Darkest Powers characters.

In terms of the book itself, while I enjoyed it, it did leave me with a lot of unanswered questions. I suppose this is to be expected since Armstrong is setting up the following parts of the story. I did enjoy reading about a heroine of a different ethnicity and the small-town, middle-of-the-woods setting was a refreshing change from big cities. The book is fast-paced and keeps the reader anxious to know the truth of Maya’s mysterious heritage as well as the mystery surrounding the town. I did find Maya slightly tiresome at times in that she was a bit too perfect and seemed to expect the same from everyone around her. Thankfully, she is called on this later on in the novel so perhaps we’ll see her grow in the next books. I’m also not sure where her relationship with her best friend, Daniel, is going. I kept expecting hints of a love triangle between Maya, Daniel, and Rafe, maybe because this plot device is used so often. So far, Maya and Daniel seem platonic and I am hoping Armstrong keeps it that way as it would be nice to see a male/female friendship that doesn’t need to be anything more. I’m sure lots of others readers would disagree, though, and may be rooting for a Maya/Daniel hookup,but personally I want to explore Rafe’s character more. I guess I’ll just have to pick up the second book, The Calling, due in April 2012, to see what happens next!

Review: Delirium

Delirium
Lauren Oliver
2011
HarperTeen
978-0-06-172682-8

Love is a disease.

At least, that’s what seventeen-year-old Lena has always been told. When she turns eighteen, she will receive “the cure” – a surgical process that will prevent her from ever catching amor deliria nervosa, a.k.a. love, a deadly disease. Once she has the cure, she’ll be paired off with a man chosen for her, attend a college chosen for her, and pursue a career chosen for her. Her old life, including her best friend, Hana, will be a distant memory. The city she lives in is surrounded by an electric fence to keep out “Invalids” who are uncured, and anyone who is suspected of being a “sympathizer” is put to death or locked in a prison called The Crypts. Lena looks forward to being cured, partly because she fears ending up like her mother, who committed suicide after several failed attempts at being cured. But a chance encounter with Alex, one of the “Invalid” rebels who has infiltrated the government, leads to a blooming relationship that has Lena questioning everything she’s ever been told  about amor delirium nervosa.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up Delirium. As much as I loved The Hunger Games trilogy, in general I don’t read a lot of dystopian novels. I really liked the concept behind this book, though. The idea of a society in which telling someone you love them is a punishable offence is just plain terrifying. Oliver does an excellent job of demonstrating how blindly conforming to societal norms can turn us into unfeeling robots who don’t truly live. It’s certainly a chilling portrayal of adulthood. I did find the pacing slowed a bit in the middle, but the action really picked up in the last hundred pages or so, and the ending really surprised me. A second book,Pandemonium, is due out next year. I am curious to see where Oliver will take the story given the shocking ending. If you like dystopian YA, I highly recommend this book.

Library Services for Children and Youth

I read this article on the Library Journal site with interest. As a new librarian about to enter the workforce in five (hopefully short) weeks, it is always disturbing to read about positions being cut, particularly in public libraries since I am hoping to work in one soon. There seems to be a growing trend, at least in the States, to reduce positions in children’s and youth services. To me, this makes little sense. Young people are the future of the library. We’re always hearing about how important it is to get teens into the library, and how if we lose children as teenagers they may not come back as adults. But how can we get teens interested in the library without having a librarian dedicated to providing teen services? Too often, youth services falls by the wayside. Teens are obviously too old for story time but the adult programming is not necessarily going to interest them either (how many teens are going to sign up for a workshop on basic computer skills?). Without youth services librarians, teen programming will suffer and teens will lose the opportunity to gain valuable leadership skills and make new friends by participating in teen advisory groups. Children also need quality library services such as literacy programs and summer reading programs that will help them develop a love of reading. If we lose age-targeted librarian positions, do we end up with librarian generalists who serve all users, but none particularly well? Don’t we want to provide quality library services for all users?