Thursday, April 2, 2009


I cannot review every book I read but I do want to talk about what I've read especially since I'm posting weekly about books I've received or check out from the library. Each week or as regularly as I can, I'll share annotations about what I read for the week.

Last week, I had a good run with children's and YA fiction. Whenever I need a real boost, some inspiration, just plain good feelings, these are the books I turned to the young. I read:

A Cool Moonlight by Angela Johnson. I read this because of Alessandra's review. The simplicity of the language here is deceptive. It takes a skilled writer to use sparse and simple words and leave an indelible impression. Subtlety is an art. In this book there is an undeniable magic and hope that resonates with the reader no matter how old she is.

The Kayla Chronicles by Sherri Winston. I really wanted to like this book because I liked the premise: a young feminist committed to supporting her peers, helping them build self-esteem and find their girl power. Kayla is smart, athletic and articulate. How could you not love her? What bothers me most is what's not here. Kayla and her best friend spout off feminist quotes like boys cite sport stats. Pretty impressive except as a quote collector and black feminist myself, who the girls aren't quoting sticks out like static hair. Kayla wants to be a journalist, but she doesn't quote any notable black journalists like icons, Daisy Bates or Nancy Maynard. Kayla's grandmother and Rosalie's mother are both professors and feminists. If you know anything about women of color feminists, you know there are some rifts with the majority movement so it is more than strange that there isn't a single quote by notable black feminists such as Belle Hooks, Alice Walker or Audre Lorde. And the book reads as if Winston can't quite figure how to balance traditional gender roles and a modern feminist view of how women are defining themselves. Kayla is a teen so you expect her confusion but competing sub-plots suggests Winston isn't sure how to create a believable cast.

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson. Lonnie Collins Motion is eleven. He was seven when his parents died in a fire. He's in foster care and a separated from his younger sister Lili. His teacher, Ms. Marcus introduces Lonnie to poetry. Writing it all down and visiting with his sister, Lonnie finds a way to cope with loss and to have hope that he and Lili will be united. I haven't read many verse novels but I am quickly becoming a fan. Lonnie says the entire book is a poem and it is. It is lyrical, fluid and affecting. Loved this.


Serena said...

those look like some fun books..happy reading

Anonymous said...

I was looking forward to the Kayla Chronicles as well. Thanks for the heads up. Am I correct in thinking it is for younger teens?

susan said...

Yes, it is. And the young aren't likely to notice the quote issue. I think it is major sticking point because Winston was clearly trying to inform readers. I think she was in some ways over-the-top like with the Dr. X naming for example. And if you're talking about empowering young girls of color, I think there should have been examples of successful women who looked like them.

susan said...

Argg! I have to break my habit of writing wait too late in the wee hours and writing without the aid of spellcheck. Just cleaned up glaring errors.

Anonymous said...

Someone on a blog (Zetta?) wrote that she wasn't looking forward to reading YA because she feared they would lack depth. I find this to be true of books for tweens. They have no depth and authors often get careless. Too often, to me, the books are uneven, storylines bland. In this case, it seems the author missed a golden opportunity in another way. It's really sad because I'm finding that transition from 8th grade to 9th grade is when we lose student's interest in reading. Maybe they need works with more teeth?

And, I don't even see your errors as I have too many of my own out there!

susan said...

I understand the fear and hestitation to explore YA. Still, I'll make a case for it. I didn't know the genre until I began working with young people, and I knew I wasn't going to hook them on reading if I didn't immerse myself in books to hook them with.

YA is like rap: the gems are there, but you have to wade through the crap and know where to look. For me, that means look at who the best YA writers are reading, talking to educators and librarians and going to the source-young people. My youngest is a sometime reluctant, but a source just the same. My daughter does read and enjoy some of the lighter fare but she is also a good judge of something that does have teeth.

We can't introduce our readers to solid materials if we're not reading it. When I started down this road I knew next to nothing. And while I am no expert now, I can rattle off a list of solid writers of YA comparable to adult novelists (and I did major in English so I'll argue I do know quality writing when I read it).

I don't like lazy, shallow or predictable writing. I don't care whose the audience. That is my broad stance. I also do consider the audience and understand that the nuances that adult readers want and expect are not necessarily the same elements young people want. Young or not, every reader does want a connection with the work, and I look for a point-of-view that resonates with the reader and a storyline that illustrates the experiences and views of the intended audience.

floreta said...

great reviews! as a WOC feminist myself, but growing up in white culture, i'm not as bothered by the rifts but i definitely know it's there. thanks for your critique.

Anonymous said...

YA fiction, I like. Middle school, teen fiction, I don't. I still read it so I have something to introduce young readers to, it's just not my preference.

susan said...

Edi, ah, I see. I've only been reading YA for a two years now and I read the edgier, darker stuff. I also read at the older end of the range. I read very little middle school books and I read very little of the bubble gum stuff.