Sunday, November 16, 2008

Giving Thanks for Great Books, Part One

This past weekend's chilly fall weather, as well as Thanksgiving's fast approach, has put me in a grateful sort of place this week.

Something that always makes me feel thankful is a good book.

I have had the honor and absolute pleasure of reading some really great new books this year. And although I would love to include them all in the list below, to keep you the reader engaged, I have decided to keep my list to those books which fall into the category of "Books I Wish Had Never Ended". Keep in mind that this list includes only middle grade and young adult fiction. A follow up post on picture books will follow in the next week or so!

Also keep in mind that the books are not listed in order of favorite- they are actually listed in order read!

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

Mom-daughter combos who shop Little Shop regularly probably already know what a fiend I am about The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, first published in 2005. In my mind, it was and remains a perfect and classic book. So admittedly, I was nervous about the sequel's appearance this past spring. How would it match up? Would it still be able to capture the beauty of that sibling bond shared by Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty? That feeling of summertime childhood nostalgia the original evokes? Would I still be crushing on Mr. Penderwick? I am happy to report that the sequel more than delivered. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is a lovely continuation of a beautiful and endearing story about growing up, family, and friendship.

This year I was a member of the New Voices Committee of the Association of Booksellers for Children. From a stack of advanced galleys, I was charged to help choose the newest, hottest voices in middle grade and YA fiction. The next two entries were a direct result of my participation on this project.

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas

I was so happy to read this book! Part Harry Potter-part Oliver Twist, The Magic Thief tells the story of Conn, a young street urchin, who chooses one day to pick the pocket of a most powerful wizard and ends up his apprentice. He is cagey and street smart, but Conn also has a heart of gold- you can't help but root for him as he tries to save the wizarding world. Despite its familiarity to other well loved stories and young heroes, this book is new and inventive and certainly a fresh voice. I look forward to reading more about Conn's adventures!

The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante

Agnes and Honey are like sisters, growing up side by side since infancy in a religious commune led by the dynamic, subtly powerful, and emotionally abusive Emmanuel. But when Honey begins to question her place as well as her belief, a drift develops between the two that threatens their bond. A Thelma and Louise type story of faith and redemption, truth and understanding, The Patron Saint of Butterflies is a beautiful and thoughtful testament to the healing power of friendship and family.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Oh my, how I gush about this book.

Frankie is coming into her own as a sophomore at a prestigious prep school. She's smart, she's beautiful, she's dating one of the hottest boys at school. What else could she need or want? Things get a bit tricky as she decides she wants it all and that all comes in the form of infiltrating an all male secret society of which her boyfriend is a member. Sure, this book is plain old fun- Frankie uses her smarts to anonymously manipulate and control the members of this group by getting them to engage in increasingly elaborate pranks that ultimately bring the school's administration to its knees-but at its core, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau- Banks is a thought provoking examination of girls in the world and their power and asks the question "How much of your femininity are you willing to give up in order to be accepted in the male world?"

LOVED this book.

Something Wicked by Alan Gratz

Like The Penderwicks, here is another sequel I was worried about. The first, Something Rotten, was so completely new to me- a modern day retelling of Hamlet- that I seriously questioned how Alan could maintain that fresh idea. If I had placed a bet with Alan about this, I would probably now owe him a pizza from Mellow Mushroom.

Let me say that if Mr. Penderwick is not available, I am all about Horatio Wilkes, the crackerjack teen detective who also happens to be the main protagonist in Rotten and now Wicked, a retelling of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Horatio is a clever, witty, somewhat irreverent kind of guy who just wants to do the right thing. Problem is his friends are always in trouble (you know the regular sort of trouble- murdered fathers, power obsessed and obsessively handwashing girlfriends, all kinds of stuff that would make The Bard proud). Something Wicked is a fun and sexy mystery that rivals its predecessor.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I am barely into this one but can already tell that it will make my list. Gaiman is a genius and this may be his best one yet. For those faithful to our blog, you already know that both Justin and Dave completely adore this book in a manly sort of way. The Graveyard Book is the clever story of young Bod, a boy orphaned at an early age and being raised by ghosts in a graveyard. That's really all I can tell you now but trust me on this one- it is that good!

1 comment:

Sarah B. B. said...

YAY!!!! For the Penderwicks sequel - I too had misgivings about a sequel, but it is superb. I met Jeanne Birdsall at IRA, and she was amazing - exactly who you would have thought to have written the book. EVERYONE should read both of these.