Hello, boys & girls…Th1rteen R3asons Why is now in paperback

Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher; published by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, New York, 2007 (paperback edition, June 2011); 288 pages (hardcover edition).

What would you think if a package arrived for you with no return address?  Secret admirer?  A gift, just because?  You probably wouldn’t expect what Clay Jensen found in his anonymous box.  “Hello, boys and girls,” her voice from the grave, or so it seems.  Hannah Baker committed suicide just days ago, but a shoe box with 13 recorded sides of audio tapes has been delivered to Clay.  As he listens to Hannah, he discovers that he is but one of 13 people who will listen to Hannah’s suicide note.  All the events that snowballed out of her control are revealed.  All of the reasons why she took her life are tortuously exposed in her own words.  What will Clay take away from this experience?  What will you?

It was hard to read this book as an adult.  I know that all the events that piled up, one after the other, on Hannah’s shoulders should have been survivable.  She should have confided in an adult, someone she could trust with the whole truth.  But I also remember what it was like to feel responsible for other people’s choices, to bear the burden of guilt that was not mine.  Compound that with a preponderance of bullying (in words and actions) and the burden could seem unbearable.  Jay Asher has captured that helplessness in a compelling read, sure to spark conversations.  Hopefully, some of those conversations are between hopeless/helpless young adults and trusted adults.  Asher and the publisher have included a suicide hotline phone number and website in the book (I reviewed the hardcover, so I don’t know if it’s included in the paperback edition just released).  “Need to talk?”  1.800.SUICIDE and www.hopeline.com are on the back jacket flap.

In addition to the suicide hotline, other Web resources connected to the book are available, including a discussion guide with talking points (http://www.thirteenreasonswhy.com/im/pdfs/tl-guide-13-reasons-why-color-1.pdf).  Also visit the book’s dedicated Web page (http://www.thirteenreasonswhy.com/); read “Hannah’s” blog, Hannah’s Reasons (http://hannahsreasons.blogspot.com/); and participate in the 13RW Project (13 Reasons Why) here: http://www.13rwproject.com/#/reviews/220).

As for the book itself, I was immediately listening with Clay’s and Hannah’s voices in my head.  I guess that’s what the author intended, since he based the books on a set of cassettes!  At first I wondered if young adults would “get” the use of pause, stop and play icons that I’m used to seeing on tape decks, but (duh!) they’re the same icons used on CD and MP3 players.  Anyway, incorporating the icons into the body of the text gave me context clues for what Clay was doing, or who was currently narrating, without having to muddy the rhythm of the story with such mundane statements as, “Clay paused the Walkman to consider Hannah’s latest accusation,” or whatever Asher would’ve resorted to writing.  Very seamless way to progress the story.

Kudos to Jay Asher on his debut.  It was a quick read that also made me pause and think; a hard achievement by any author!

5P     5Q     Grade Level: 9+

Cover art: Hannah is sitting on a playground swing looking rather ghostly in her beige ensemble.  The significance of the playground is explained at the beginning and throughout the book.  The use of what appears to be tape labels is a clever way of adding the title and author to the cover.  Interesting art that will probably encourage teens to pick it up and read the description (that is, if they haven’t already heard of the book and the forthcoming movie).

From Reading Lists: Best Books for Young Adults (YALSA) 2008, Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers (YALSA) 2008


Where to put Inside Out?

Inside Out: Portrait of An Eating Disorder written and illustrated by Nadia Shivack; published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon and Schuster’s Children’s Publishing Division, New York, 2007.

Nadia Shivack documented her relationship with ED (her nickname for her eating disorder) by sketching on napkins and other scraps of paper.  In therapy, she discovered that distracting her disturbing thoughts could quiet ED enough to slowly develop a healthier relationship with food; so a friend gave her colored pencils and the sketching began.  Still recovering and struggling today, she chose to share her tumultuous journey with others.

The result is a simple book that is misleadingly complex and emotional.  Her straight-from-the-hip text reveals her struggles, flaws and strengths in a few well-chosen words.  Jarring facts about eating disorders are included.  But the most impact comes from the sketches, cartoons with inner dialog that chilled me to the bone.  The genius of this book lies in the unflinching way Shivack shares her demon.

This book is totally well-designed.  Shivack’s narration is reverse printed, white on black, a hint that this book is coming from the dark depths of her existence.  All-caps are used for the facts, in goldenrod boxes; no mistaking this is intended to get attention.  Caribbean blue end papers and sunshiny yellow pages mislead the readers into thinking this is a bright, happy story of youth.  Then the images are examined closely, and the horrors that eat away from the inside are revealed.  When combined, this is a truly powerful way of depicting something that cannot be comprehended by outsiders.

The book is designed like a graphic novel.  In fact, I stumbled across the book by accident in a display of graphic novels (and it is in fact cataloged as a graphic novel at the library where I picked it up).  I think that is a terrible injustice to the young adults (and adults) that need to hear this story.  This book belongs in non-fiction, next to other books about eating disorders.  With a couple of quick searches, I discovered that another local library shelved it in adult nonfiction; a third library did put it in young adult nonfiction alongside other books on anorexia, bulemia and other eating disorders.

This book needs to be paired with Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls to flesh out (sorry) Lia’s agonies.  (Read my review.)  Use pathfinders, read-alike lists, displays, whatever is needed to get this book into the hands of teens.

4P     4Q     Grade Level: 6-12+

Cover Art: The author’s colorful sketches are portrayed on paper that has been creased, crumpled, and ripped.  Big time ripped.  A big clue that this is a story of dysfunction.  The graphic novel appearance and Shivack’s art will certainly catch young adult eyes.

From Reading List: Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers (YALSA) 2008, Too Good to Be True Nonfiction

The Hunger Games left me famished…wanting more!

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; published by Scholastic Inc., New York, 2008; 374 pages.

Katniss Everdeen has stepped into her father’s role as provider and protector of her mother and sister, Prim.  His death in the coal mines of District 12 (formerly Appalachia) left them without any means of support.  To supplant the food she forges for and hunts in the woods outside the fence, the Everdeens trade tokens for provisions.  The tokens bear Katniss’ name in the annual drawing of representatives from the 12 districts that used to comprise the United States.  After a bloody uprising, the rich and powerful of the Capitol hold Hunger Games every year, in which a boy and girl are selected as tributes from each district to battle to the death.  The victor has his or her needs provided for by the government for life, while the victor then trains the subsequent contestants.  In an unlucky twist of fate, Katniss’ beloved sister is chosen.  Katniss volunteers to replace her in the games and her hunting partner, and potential love interest, Gale, vows to make sure Prim and their mother are cared for in her absence.  Peeta, the baker’s son, is the male tribute from her district; they train together and their coaches contrive a romance as their strategy to win.  As the games are televised, Katniss finds it relatively easy to play to the cameras and earn sponsors to help her.  She doesn’t find it easy to sort through her feelings for Peeta or to determine his motivations.  An unforeseen twist at the end of the games leaves a cliffhangers for readers who will be anxious to jump into the second book Catching Fire.

I could not put down this thriller.  What a great female protagonist!  Although I was horrified by the concept of teens fighting to the death, the battles and death scenes were handled with finesse and taste by Collins.  Undoubtedly, teens will relate to the subthemes of unchallenged authority, a disparate class system, and brains over brawn.

Collins has said that her inspiration, in part, came from the surreal blurring of the lines between reality TV and war coverage as she channel-surfed.  That would make a terrific theme for a booktalk or book club discussion starring this book.  Hopefully, with Collins writing the screenplay, the movie will inspire reluctant readers to pick up the book to learn more about these fascinating characters and their future world.

I was not surprised to learn that the book made YALSA’s “Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers” and the “Best Books for Young Adults” lists in 2009.  I imagine we’ll see it on their “Popular Paperbacks” list as well.

5P     5Q     Grade Level: 7-12+

Cover Art: Silver on black is certainly an attractive choice to lure teens to the book.  Adding the image of the mockingjay pin that the Mayor’s daughter, Madge, gave Katniss before the games, should pique curiosity; I know I had an “aha” moment in the book.  The cover seems to appeal to boys more than girls as it has a rather militaristic design; however, reading the back cover should lure girls to read since the protagonist is a strong female.

From Reading List: Best Books for Young Adults (YALSA) 2009

What would your Six-Word Memoir be?

Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure from SMITH Magazine, edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith; published by Harper Perennial, New York, 2008; 221 pages.

According to the introduction, this collection was inspired by an urban legend.  Supposedly, someone challenged Ernest “Papa” Hemingway to write a six word novel.  His response?  “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”  Six must be a magic number; Papa’s six-word novel, the six degrees of Kevin Bacon game, and now six-word memoirs.  Also according to the introduction:

Launched online in 2006, SMITH Magazine celebrates personal storytelling and the ways in which technology has fueled storytelling’s growth and infinite possibilities.  We like to be both populist and aspirational, blurring the line between professional and amateur.  So in November 2006, while thousands of people were cranking out tens of thousands of words during annual National Novel Writing Month, SMITH decided to lower the bar.  We gave Hemingway’s form a new, personal twist: What would a six-word memoir look like?

The response was apparently overwhelming.  Professional and amateur writers alike submitted their memoirs.

Some related only a turning-point, or a single event, in life. (He knew her bruises would fade. ~Colin Stanton; Torrential tryst.  Terrible twins.  Tied tubes. ~M. Brenner; Never should have bought that ring. ~Paul Bellows)

Others were somehow able to summarize a lifetime in but six little words. (Forest peace, sharing vision, always optimistic. ~Jane Goodall; Fight, work, persevere–gain slight notoriety. ~Harvey Pekar; Coulda, shoulda, woulda: a regretful life. ~Joe Maida)

Some memoirs were ridiculous.  (Mushrooms.  Clowns.  Wands.  Five.  Wig.  Thatched. ~Amy Sedaris; Can my words have footnotes, please? ~Amy Harbottle; Underachieving…but willing to overcompensate halfheartedly. ~Frank J. Lepiane)

Others were sublime.  (I hope to outlive my regrets. ~Bob Logan;  Cursed with cancer.  Blessed with friends ~Hannah Davies;  Blade cuts, blood runs, scars remain. ~Heather Hudgins)

The editors note that this book has inspired many teachers to use the concept as a writing exercise with their students.  That idea occurred to me as well.  In fact, wouldn’t it be interesting to have the students write their memoirs once a quarter?  Or at least at the beginning and then again at the end of the school year?  As a librarian, I could plan a program around the concept.

I thought I would just rip through this book, but it was far from a quick read.  I found myself contemplating the memoirs, wondering about the authors.  I daydreamed about my memoir and wrote down the ones that struck a chord.  This is a book that will nag at the corners of my mind; I will reread and then rewrite.  Although the book was written for adults, I can certainly see the appeal to young adults.  Who is more narcissistic than a teenager?  The idea of autobiography or memoir would strike a chord with most teens and the challenge of writing only six-words would hook them.

3P     5Q     Grade Level: 8-12+ (adult book marketed to teens)

not_quite_what_I_was_planningCover Art: The cover is like a concrete poem: The number six is created by the words of the title and editor’s name.  The black background with white, red, turquoise and chartreuse type would definitely appeal to teens.  It was confusing for me to read and I think it will confuse teens, but they might like the puzzle challenge of it.  Since the book was not intended solely for the teen audience, I don’t think the cover was designed to appeal to them.  The title is written in white typeface on the black background; the words are typed in portrait and landscape mode to fit it all on the spine.  It was hard to read on the shelf.

From Reading List: Too Good to Be True Nonfiction; Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers (YALSA), 2009.

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