With two people working in my library, I find that I have downtime everyday. Of course, our library is very well run, very efficient, and very regimented so when new books come in or classes unexpectedly show up we can easily shift what we’re doing to accommodate. My downtime is usually spent checking out book blogs and bestseller lists, looking for ideas. I’m finding though that there’s only so much time I can spend on the computer and only so many books I can re-lable before I want to weep. Taking on new projects can be hard at this time of the year with only 2 months left and because I’m new I don’t want to start proposing new things with so little experience here. This brings me back to what to do in my downtime. I’m finding it hard to do busy work because there really isn’t any. Sometimes teachers who have free time come wandering into the library looking to help- what do they do when we turn them away?
I recently took a much needed break from reading YA novels and dug into some adult fiction. I don’t really read non-fiction, it rarely appeals to me. I like an author’s license to do whatever he/she wants with characters. I realize there are tons of compelling non-fiction books out there (The Glass Castle will always remain one of my most favourite books) that would readily capture my attention, and I do browse them, but still find that I always end up gravitating towards the fiction section. And so I picked up Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, the first in a trilogy that feels an awful lot like Harry Potter meets Narnia meets Tom Wolfe. The language in harsh and academic, and the story focuses less on world creating than character development, but I couldn’t put it down. The characters are miserable and for the most part bad people, in a realistic, drunk with power and money sort of way. Overall, the story is really about what magic in the hands of the average person can do. This is Slytherin all grown up. I still managed to grow fond of the hero, mostly because he grows as a person and is realistically affected by everything that happens to him. I was going to save the next two books for summer vacation but ended up picking up the second this week. Oh well.
After powering through The Magicians, I picked up two YA novels from the school library- Ready Player One (Ernest Cline) and Althea and Oliver (Cristina Moracho). I didn’t make it much father than the first few chapters in either, but both are perfect YA reads. Ready Player One, soon to be a major motion picture, deals with a future where most people live in a virtual reality. The protagonist is a teenager, a gamer, whose real life is miserable but online life is compelling. For anyone interested in anything from John Hughes movies to Dungeons and Dragons to school sports, this is the book for you. It’s one of the novel study options here at school, and I can see it being a perfect book for a grade 8 or 9 class. I don’t want to say anything more, the concept is too interesting to give away, but I will say that the writing is simple and incredibly clever.
The next book I picked up was Althea and Oliver. The two main characters have been best friends since they were 6 years old and as Althea slowly falls in love with Oliver, he deals with a horrible syndrome that causes him to fall asleep for months at a time. I had to stop reading simply because the story and the writing was too painfully reminiscent of being a teenager. The author does an incredible job of capturing the raw, real, and intense emotions of teenagers, something nobody wants to relive but every teenager can relate to. The relationships portrayed are clearly flawed and bad, and even though I can see a teen rooting for A and O to get together, it would also be clear what needed to change for this to end up being a good match. I can see this book appealing to any gender and will definitely be recommending it.
About a month back I read Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl. It wasn’t profound- not a whole lot happened. The novel is well written though, which kept me turning the pages, and the characters are interesting and believable. I was let down that nothing really happened in the end, but then again, most things in life aren’t wild and crazy. A movie adaptation was made last year and took home the Jury Prize at Sundance this year. Connie Britton, Nick Offerman, and Molly Shannon play the adults and the teens are all newcomers. I’ve heard nothing but praise for this movie, and after seeing the trailer I have high hopes! Below is a link to the trailer.
I’ve been lucky enough to listen in on several debates surrounding The House of the Scorpion novel studies here at the school. The grade 8s have clearly been spending a good amount of time learning about everything from cloning to cartels to health care to better their arguments for their debating projects. I’m so impressed by their enthusiasm for the novel and all the issues raised by it. Since the book’s been on my to-read list for a year now, I grabbed an extra copy from the school and settled down to enjoy. And then I just didn’t. The story is wonderfully written and the premise of a young boy being raised to take over a dangerous future drug cartel is interesting- who doesn’t love a good clone story! Nancy Farmer is also a wonderful writer, and I definitely don’t feel like I’m reading a YA novel. It’s so very detailed and long though. I was talking to the TL here and she agreed. There’s just something about this book that’s too dull. What a let down! Will I recommend it? Absolutely. It’s got great literary value and amazing themes. Personally, I’m done with it.
Working in a school allows you to see a side of life you haven’t since you lived it. I’m talking about all those middle school hormones, smells, emotions, attitudes, styles, and more. By the end of the day, the library tends to smell like a million farts mixed with dirty gym clothes because of how close it is to the grade 9 wing. Don’t get me wrong, I love working with teenagers, it’s where I wanted to be, but the smell. And the attitudes! The majority of students are respectful and go about their business, stopping to chat if they aren’t too humiliated by my very presence. There are some though, mostly boys surprisingly, who could use an attitude change. They’re just plain rude and unlike their more goodhearted counterparts, they don’t respond to anything. I can tease, joke, use mild public humiliation, you name it, and these boys are just content to be miserable little jerks. So there’s nothing to do but move on and know that they’re no different from the miserable jerks you experienced when you were in middle school.
I can’t just move on though, really. I don’t want to write these kids off and blame their parents and be glad that they’ll be in high school next year. It’s easy to look to the younger grades and begin cultivating a relationship with them that you can carry over into the next few years and use to get along with future jerky personalities. The current students though will be the death of me. My solution? Candy, bribery, and unfailing kindness. I remember dealing with boys (and girls) like this in middle school and being in tears by the time I got home. They were cruel no matter what and to whoever crossed their paths. My science teacher, now a good family friend, would always smile and ignore their eye rolls when she realized that tearing them a new one wasn’t going to work. And by the end of the year these horrible little people, still cruel as ever, proclaimed this teacher to be their favourite. Who knew. So I’m going to smile and curse them behind their backs, and at the very least I’ll be a good example to kids during lunch supervision or something.
I’m a sucker for a good unexpected pregnancy book. Or unexpected illness or death. Maybe I just like some drama and heartache? The novels I’ve read about teen pregnancy always follow the story of the mother and what she deals with as she grows as a baby and decides what to do with it. I recently finished Slam by Nick Hornby, the pop culture darling who penned About a Boy and High Fidelity. Slam is narrated by a teen boy (Sam), and although I had some idea going into it that it might feature teen pregnancy, I didn’t realized it would be about Sam becoming a teen father. Sam is the product of teen parents. His father, still living the irresponsible life, is useless and his mother has done everything she can to become a normal parent. She isn’t trying to be Sam’s buddy, despite the fact that she was only 16 when she had him, and is actually a wonderful and attentive parent. Life might not be what she planned, but she’s made the best of a bad situation and is an admirable- and realistic- character, living proof that teen pregnancy doesn’t destroy everything. When Sam- who talks to a Tony Hawke poster and is obsessed with skating (the board kind) gets his first real girlfriend and spends the next few months spending every waking minute with her, it becomes clear that things most likely won’t end well. Alycia, his girlfriend, is from a lovely family, and although she’s more, ahem, experience than Sam, the two find they have more in common than just raging hormones. So when Sam dumps Alycia (by just never texting her back) and she tells him she might be pregnant a few weeks later, you know things aren’t going to end well. In between running away, moving in with Alycia’s family, and getting loads of bad advice from his father, Sam narrates his new life as a soon to be teen father and how his life has taken a drastic turn. The book flashes forward in the future, but never so far as to confuse or annoy the reader. In the end, Sam is left hopeful but hesitant and resigned to his life as the father of baby Roof. Hornby couldn’t have created a more realistic look at teen (and adult) pregnancy and parenting. The book doesn’t preach, but doesn’t hold anything back either. The writing style makes the book appealing to both girls and guys as well, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to the most reluctant of teen boy readers.
I always have lists of things I want to read, watch, listen to, cook, eat, explore, etcetera, etcetera. Every since my class last year on children’s and young adult’s literature, my reading lists have gotten out of control. I find it hard to really dive into books meant for grades 5-7 (there isn’t a lot of character development and the stories are simpler, as they should be) but I’ve become addicted to YA literature. So far, I’m desperate to read these:
1. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
2. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
3. Althea and Oliver by Cristina Moracho
4. The Line by Teri Hall
5. Liv, Forever by Amy Talkington
6. We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen
And many many many many more….