Jennifer R. Hubbard’s Try Not to Breathe

Published in: 2012Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 6.21.20 PM

Pages: 233

The protagonist: Ryan, 16, an introverted and tragically misunderstood recent survivor of a suicide attempt. He has just left residential treatment and is working on acclimating to life at home post-hospitalization.

The gist in 100 words or less: A local waterfall is Ryan’s safe, get-away-from-it-all place. One day, he runs into Nicki, who Ryan only vaguely knows to be the younger sister of a classmate. Nicki begins asking Ryan questions about his suicide attempt, and as he struggles to decide whether to answer them, he learns some important things about Nicki and about himself.

Great things: It puts suicide RIGHT out there, in a this-is-a-really-big-problem-and-we-shouldn’t-be-so-afraid-to-talk-about-it way. I loved, loved, loved Nicki, and she’s the one who really insists on bringing everything up. Nicki is an amazing, hilarious, round, no-holds-barred, inspirational character. She wants to talk about things that people don’t usually want to talk about, because isn’t that healthier and why don’t we just ask the questions we have and why are there so many social RULES and…

The portrayal of residential mental health treatment was phenomenal. When discussing his experiences at Patterson, Ryan complains about the things that teenagers would complain about, mentally rolling his eyes at certain aspects of his treatment but at the same time realizing why they’re important. This is SO how a teenager’s logic often works and Hubbard captures it perfectly.

Also, almost all of the other characters. And the connection Ryan and Nicki have. And the portrayal of Ryan’s mother. And Ryan’s voice. And…

Meh: Honestly? The cover art & title. I think I put off picking this one up because the photo on the cover combined with the title seem…a little disturbing. I realize now that the title is a reference to an REM song, and I know I’m not super music-reference-literate, but I’m not sure teens today would know REM that well, either. Not that that means we shouldn’t use slightly obscure music references, but…anyway, the title doesn’t fit, especially not with the photo.

Best quote: (one of them) “Mom went upstairs to watch something else because she said baseball was maddeningly slow, and we settled on the living-room couch. The way baseball announcers talk is very relaxing. It’s like they have nothing to do with the rest of their lives besides watch whatever game is in front of them. Not that I listened to every word. I just liked the sound of it, the stream of facts and numbers and stats and names. It pushed everything else out of my mind.” (82)

Parent/teacher alert: This book is about Big Stuff, which is awesome. It’s important and it’s portrayed in a very real, accessible way. But it’s Big Stuff, and if it were my son or daughter I’d definitely use it as an opportunity to talk about suicide, mental health, compassion, kindness and judgement of others.

There are romantic relationships, but they are gritty and real and sweet. Some making out that doesn’t go any farther than making out.

Read it if you liked: Sarah Dessen’s stuff, Speak, The Fault in Our Stars, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Not good for: I imagine someone struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts who doesn’t have someone to talk to would have a hard time with this one. Other than that…it’s one that I think almost everyone should read.

What my students think: I haven’t pushed this one yet, but I will be pretty much as soon as I see them this week.

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More movie news

New Divergent trailer at the VMAs last night.

Man, I need to read that book.

Also, John Green (@realjohngreen) is currently on the set of The Fault in Our Stars and his enthusiasm is. so. adorable. and. exciting:

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 8.06.19 PM

Well, John Green, I got teary just reading that tweet, so if you’re crazy, I think there’s a lot of us right there with ya.

(I can’t imagine, as someone who gets so excited about film adaptations of good books, how the actual AUTHOR must feel. It makes me love this movie thing even more, if that’s possible…)

Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan

Hooooo boy.Screen shot 2013-08-20 at 9.13.30 PM

Published in: 2010

Pages: 416

The protagonist: Nastasya, an Immortal who is over 400 years old but supposedly looks like she’s in her late teens or early twenties. Immortals are everywhere on Earth, mostly living among us, pretending to be mortal and relocating every generation or so and ignoring/failing to cultivate their mild-ish magical powers. “Nasty” is a party girl with no real human connections, and when we meet her she is living in London as a socialite with a particularly reprehensible group of friends.

The gist in 100 words or less: In the opening scene, Nastasya’s most objectionable friend, a male Immortal, brutally injures a cab driver and leaves him to die. Nastasya begins to question her lifestyle and, based on the advice of a woman she met decades ago, flees to River’s Edge, a rehab center for “wayward Immortals” located in New England. As she begins to learn the lessons of this working-farm-and-rehab-center, she meets Reyn, a “Viking god-like”, gruff, distant Immortal that she somewhat recognizes; and Nell, a manipulative go-getter who wants nothing to do with Nastasya.

Great stuff: River’s Edge is a thinly-veiled rehab center, and I really appreciated that residential treatment for “addiction” took such a central role in a popular YA novel. Nastasya reacts to being there as I’m sure many addicts do–denial, wanting to leave, being irritated by everyone, finding reasons to stay, enjoying more of the experience, and continuing to learn why it’s good for her. It’s healthy for kids to read about treatment like this, and River’s Edge is certainly portrayed as a productive, positive, life-altering place.

Meh: The writing…is pretty terrible.

Nastasya is so incredibly annoying, immoral and whiny that I really never cared about her, and coupled with the fact that I struggled mightily with the writing, I had a really hard time pushing through this one. Tiernan (real name Gabrielle Charbonnet) breaks the cardinal rule of show-don’t-tell, and the writing is repetitive, irritating and somewhat insulting to the reader–everything is explained explicitly, and descriptions are repeated ad nauseum (if you thought the 239847298347 references to Edward Cullen’s alabaster skin were annoying, the repetition of the identical phrase “Viking God” will make you physically nauseous).

As we’ve seen in other series of the same genre, Nastasya has apparently learned nothing in over four hundred years of being alive and her maturity reflects her physical age only. This is unrealistic and frustrating.

Best quote: I left the book at camp and have not retrieved it yet.

There is a part early on where River explains to Nastasya why a year seems so much shorter when you are older (because it comprises a much smaller part of your overall life). I hadn’t really ever thought about it, and it was pretty cool.

Parent/teacher alert: Nastasya does a lot of drinking, a fair amount of drugs, tons of casual sex (none of which is really described explicitly) and engages in a party-girl lifestyle that is altogether too prevalent in Hollywood and pop culture today. Yes, the point of the story is that she renounces (or starts renouncing) that lifestyle, but it takes a loooong time and she’s such a ridiculous character that her rejection of her former life is not all that believable.

Read it if you liked: Twilight. Gossip Girl/Pretty Little Liars, maybe.

Not good for: Those who like good writing and solid character development or have just finished reading a book that has either. People who were annoyed by Twilight. People who are annoyed by whiny party girls. People who are easily insulted when the author explains every. little. thing. outright. fourteen. times. People who don’t feel the need to have the same person/thing/feeling described the exact same way every time.

I’ll stop there.

What my students think: The girls love this one. Sigh.

Links cleanup

At Buzzfeed: 32 Books That Will Actually Change Your Life

A bit old, but…whoa: A librarian in New York State has asked that a voracious young reader drop out of summer reading competitions because he wins too much (via the Glens Falls Post-Star)

12 Best Fictional Libraries (I wanted #2 SO BADLY)

YALSA’s Teen Book Finder app for iOS. As I’m no longer a smartphone use, y’all will have to let me know how it is.

The 50 greatest graphic novels of all time according to the Herald. Thoughts?

And to celebrate the beginning of the school year…The Oatmeal’s “How and why to use whom in a sentence

Awesome writing advice

Even in my very limited study of creative writing (a couple courses in college), I’ve realized what a difference knowing about the process can make when I’m reading a piece of literature. It’s a blessing and a curse (read: my next review).

Some awesome writing advice from famous authors, written on their hands, which makes it even cooler

Elmore Leonard’s ten rules for writing fiction–I luuurve the dialogue advice

Does your knowledge of the creative writing make you a more critical reader? What bugs you?

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever had?

New Harry Potter cover art

I’ve kind of hesitated to post about this because I’ve been hrumph-ing about it, a) because this is a fifteen-year anniversary thing and I am Feeling Old, and b) I love love love the original covers and why did we have to do this and whyiseverythingaboutmoneythesedays.

But, well…they’re really pretty awesome, and if this truly does introduce a new generation of readers to the books…

USA Today’s slideshow of the new covers compares the old & new.

The Scholastic blog just sat down with Kazu Kibuishi about the design process.

On a kind-of-related note, a Maine public library was one of the 15 winners in Scholastic’s 15-year-anniversary Potter Party contest! They get all kinds of cool stuff, including a set with the new covers signed by the artist. Libraries had to submit applications for the contest: 

Taking inspiration from the series, hundreds of librarians submitted their ideas for Harry Potter celebrations designed to introduce a new generation of readers to the wizarding world. Librarians’ ideas include serving Harry Potter-themed food, hosting trivia contests, dressing up as favorite Potter characters, having live owls, house-sorting parties, scavenger hunts, Quidditch matches, wand-making, and classes from Hogwarts such as Potions, Divination, and Herbology.

Way to go, Fairfield!