You GUYS: I have a library again!
Let me explain. Ok. So. My library in New York? Gorgeous. Absolutely beautiful...on the outside. (A few of you saw it last year, as it hosted some very cool author event that I had to work during. Sigh.) It's all brick and stone and used to be a courthouse.
Inside? Well, I went once. And...I was unimpressed. Sure, I could have requested books, but that would require planning, and what I have always loved about libraries and bookstores is serendipity. I'm a compulsive book browser. Show me a bookshelf and my head automatically tilts sideways to see what's there.
Plus I was a fifteen minute walk from Books of Wonder.
But I grew up in the library! Seriously. I met my first friends through library story hour when I was like two years old, a few of whom I am still friends with. My first job was as a page in the children's room. I loved my library SO MUCH. So when we moved, it was only a matter of time before we went to check out our local branch and get library cards.
On the outside, it's totally modest, a low-slung brick building that might as well be a post office. Cute, but nothing that would stop you in your tracks.
Inside? It's delightful. Warm, cozy, an adorable children's room, and a medium-sized but VERY well selected YA section. There's even a little animal that lives on the checkout desk...a gerbil or a hamster, I'm not sure, because it's usually curled up in its little Habitrail.
So since I am STILL reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I decided to grab some quicker reads from the library this week. It was hard not to regress to my childhood habits and take out twenty books at once (that is not an exaggeration), but ultimately I settled on five and read two this week.
What I Read This Week:
Perfect by Ellen Hopkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Two things I need to say up front: I think Ellen Hopkins is a crazy-talented writer, and there is no one whose books bum me out like hers. For whatever reason, I tend not to get that moment of catharsis that makes me go nuts about a book (see my review for Looking For Alaska.) So, for me, Perfect was a really well-told story that I enjoyed, but not a totally consuming story that I loved. I know other people have had that experience. I think it's maybe just too un-endingly grim. (I also recently came to terms with the fact that I can't watch or read Game of Thrones for the same reason.) Just a string of terrible things happening to people--with maybe the occasional neutral thing, or at best a good thing tied to a really terrible thing--eventually becomes too much for me. I think the multiple narrators in Perfect made me like the story more, but love it less. I thought the transitions were really interesting and always timed as little cliffhangers, but ultimately I think it broke up the flow of how much I was invested in each one. And overall, I was more invested in Kendra (an aspiring model with anorexia), Andre (a dancer whose parents have other ideas about his future), and Jenna (not a narrator, but Kendra's younger sister, an angry, sad girl who abuses substances and dates Andre) than in Cara and Sean. I didn't realize that this was the companion novel to one I hadn't read--it may be that I would have been more interested in Cara if I had already read Conner's story.
Anyway, I know many of my students would have loved this, and I know many of my friends have loved it. I recommend this to anyone who likes dark contemporary or stories told in (often really gorgeous) verse.
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
How do I describe the universe of this book? In Paul's town, it's nearly utopia. The local fast food outlet has been transformed into a vegan co-op. PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is as active as the PTA. The quarterback of the high school football team is also the homecoming queen. And at the five and dime, things still cost a nickel or ten cents.
Outside his town, things are more like our world. Paul's friend Tony, for example, camped out in a nearby forest for a week after coming out to his devastated, deeply religious parents. But the story is set mostly in Paul's town, among a cast of characters that I can best describe as Glee meets Weetzie Bat. (And while I have a lot of issues with both of those, I actually mean that in a good way.)
What struck me about the town Paul lives in, where everyone is free to be pretty much whatever, is that it brings the story down to individuals and the consequences of their actions. Too often, stories about gay teenagers focus on the consequences of social injustice--which is something that absolutely should be written about, because it's sadly very real--but it was really nice to read a story in which the A-plot had nothing to do with that, and everything to do with how it feels to be confused about and conflicted between two important relationships. Paul falls hard for Noah, the new kid in town, but Paul's ex Kyle is suddenly back in the picture. The A-storyline follows Paul as he navigates those tricky waters for the first time. It's perfectly executed and more than once made me feel the stomach-plummeting "what have I done" that land-mined all of my high school relationships. The rest of the book is given over to Paul's friends Joni and Tony. Joni is suddenly dating a new guy, and she's changing in ways that Paul can't stomach. Tony is grappling with how to reconcile his family and his sexuality in a way that values them both. I thought both of these storylines were really compelling and moving as well.
It took me a little while to get into this story, but once I did, I was all in. I highly recommend this to fans of romantic contemporary--it's got a totally adorable romance that feels at once totally cartoony (in the best way--like a great Disney movie) and completely grounded in small, amazing details.
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