Tag Archives: young adult

FLIPPED by Wendelin Van Draanen

flippedOur last mother-daughter book club read for the academic year was Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen. Flipped is the story of a friendship between Julianna and Bryce, who meet in second grade when Bryce moves in across the street from her. She is instantly smitten with him, while he is put off by her intensity and immediate attachment to him. For the next 6 years, Bryce basically tolerates Juli, and she continues to indulge her crush, sitting behind him in class and smelling his hair.

Fast forward to 8th grade. Bryce and Juli are still in school together, and she still likes him. Flipped relates what happens that year in chapters that alternate between him and her, in he-said she-said perspectives that reveal, of course, that both characters are more complex than they appear. Juli is a free spirit who raises chickens and mourns the loss of her favorite tree, while Bryce is a popular boy who keeps his emotions in check and cares what people think. But Juli starts to grow on him. He won’t admit it, but he cares about her feelings and admires her passion. And Juli gets to know Bryce’s family better and learns that he is not perfect. In fact, he can be thoughtless and inconsiderate, which we know, of course, because we see his side of things.

I liked Flipped. I thought the characters were textured and interesting, and the way the year played out was pretty realistic. The book had an old-fashioned feel to it, which I enjoyed. Oddly, the girls in book club did not it that much.A few thought it was boring, while a few thought it was anti-feminist, which I didn’t agree with, because Juli never compromises herself or acts like someone she isn’t – she just has a crush! She was a strong female protagonist.  I was surprised that the girls didn’t enjoy the book as much as I did.

FYI – there is a movie version of Flipped with a good cast – Anthony Edwards, Aidan Quinn, John Mahoney – which came out in 2010. We watched it after book club and we really liked it. Rob Reiner directed it and set it in the 60s, which felt pretty natural. So if you do read the book, check out the movie afterwards.

That’s a wrap for mother-daughter book club for 2015-2016. We’ll be back in the fall with a new year of books for 7th graders. (Any suggestions?)

WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart

I don’t usually read YA fiction that everyone else is talking and blogging about, but I made an exception for We Were Liars by E. Lockhart because someone told me, “Read it. Don’t read about it, just read it.” I was intrigued by her advice, and requested it from the library. The fact that all copies were checked out and I had to wait until it came in only heightened my curiosity. It eventually came in, and I read it.

If you want to replicate my experience, and you’ve been curious about this “Gothic tale of failed romance in an entrenched East Coast family still enslaved to the rigid WASP codes”, then don’t read the rest of this review until you’ve read We Were Liars. (Then come back and tell me what you thought.)

If you want to know more before you commit to We Were Liars, then read on, but beware that it might spoil your experience a bit.

We Were Liars is about a privileged family with an island off of Martha’s Vineyard. Each summer, the patriarch of the family and his wife, along with their three daughters and a collection of grandchildren, come to the island and live in the four estates that have been built, one for each nuclear family. The story is told from the perspective of 15 year-old Cadence, the oldest grandchild. The “Liars” are two of Cadence’s cousins, Johnny and Mirren, and an Indian boy named Gat whose uncle is dating Johnny’s mother.

The Liars are thick as thieves each summer, and the book is rich with the smells and sounds of that epic season, when it seems that each sense is heightened not only by the weather and physical surroundings but also by adolescence and the sense that nothing is ever as important as when you are a teenager. There is a lot of commentary about the family, and the daughters’ infighting and currying favor with the rich grandfather, who controls the pursestrings and the inheritances. Gat serves as the Liars’ conscience: he is the one that points out that Cady never bothers to learn the names of the help and raises questions about income redistribution and the fundamental unfairness of property ownership.

Something happens during that fateful Summer Fifteen, however, when Cady finds herself in the ocean one night, barely dressed, with a head injury so severe that she leaves the island for the rest of the summer and doesn’t return for two years. What happened that night? Why was she on the beach by herself, and why can’t she remember anything about it? Why won’t her cousins and Gat (which whom she is in love) engage with her and fill her in on what they remember?


Like fans of “The Crying Game” (she’s a guy!) and “The Sixth Sense” (he sees dead people!), people who have read We Were Liars will tell you not to tell anyone anything about it. Yes, there is a spoiler. I was pretty much on notice that there was going to be a spoiler, and I have to say, I didn’t find it too hard to figure out what it was. Unlike the people on Goodreads who are all, “OH MY GOD I DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING”, I saw it coming. So I was not as blown away by We Were Liars as I might have been, but I did like it. It’s a quick read and I enjoyed the dark and dramatic atmosphere that Lockhart created.  I gave it a solid 3 stars out of 5 on Goodreads.

Have you read it? Did you figure out the spoiler beforehand?

THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker

I finished another book! Shocking. This is my lowest book month in recent memory – 3 books completed in September. Sigh. I’m telling you – it’s not the baby, it’s the job.

And now to the book – The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. First off, I have to say that I rarely read sci-fi, dystopia, speculative fiction or YA. I have read a number of reviews of The Age of Miracles that criticize it for not holding its own in one or more of those categories. I can’t really address that criticism, because I am not familiar enough with those genres to judge. But I will say that I loved this book.

The Age of Miracles, which has gotten a great deal of attention this summer, is about the year when the earth’s rotation slowed down. The story is told through the eyes of an 11-year old girl named Julia who lives with her parents in southern California. With the slowdown comes a legion of problems for humans living on earth. The days start to get longer, throwing off the natural rhythm of life and confusing the calendar. Then birds start dying, unable to fly due to changes in the gravitational pull of the earth. Fruit can no longer be grown due to the changing pattern of daylight hours; whales are beached all along the coasts; and so on. Julia’s life is affected by these changes, just as everyone’s are, but at the same time she’s also a middle school girl trying to navigate the treacherous waters of fickle friendships, boys, and parents with their own problems.

The Age of Miracles (so named because adolescence is often called the age of miracles) is one of the most creative books I’ve ever read. Walker’s depiction of the gradual changes brought on by the slowdown, and the ways in which people reacted to those changes, was both realistic and totally original. There’s no revolution or apocalypse; there’s just ordinary people either trying to deny what is happening, or overreacting, or turning on each other because they don’t agree with how to adapt to the changing reality of a new way of life.  Julia is a matter-of-fact, minimalistic narrator whose small, personal life is just as important to her as the cosmic changes taking place around her.

I found The Age of Miracles quite stressful to read, as I suppose many dystopian novels must be. Yet Walker’s artful prose and the poignancy of her story kept me going despite the difficulty of the subject matter. My one complaint is that there was too much needless foreshadowing; she often ended chapters with sentences like “We had no idea how bad it would get later” or “It was the last time I would ever be in her house” or “We would later learn that…”. I find that kind of foreshadowing a bit cheap and patronizing. If a story is strong (as this one was), then I don’t need that type of hinting at what’s to come in order to keep me interested. I’d rather be surprised. This is a minor complaint, but it happened enough throughout the book that it’s worth mentioning. One other quibble: there were few mentions of how countries other than the U.S. were faring on the new earth. I’d like to have learned more about what was happening in other parts of the world.

When I first read about The Age of Miracles, I wasn’t interested in reading it. But I ended up getting it from the library and decided to take a chance on it, and boy am I glad I did. What a creative, thoughtful novel. I highly recommend it.

Booking Mama’s Shelf Discovery Challenge

Lizzie I have never entered a blog reading challenge before. I don't like to feel constrained in deciding what I am going to read next, and I don't get to enough books that I feel like I can join challenges that have deadlines and expectations about how many books you have to finish. At any given moment, there are a lot of compelling challenges happening around the book blogosphere, but I just haven't been tempted to join one.

Until now.

Booking Mama is hosting the Shelf DIscovery Challenge, which asks participants to read the collection of essays in Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading - a book by Lizzie Skurnick about the books that changed our lives as teenagers – and to choose six books featured in Shelf Discovery to read over the next six months.

How exciting to revisit some of those YA books that I treasured and dogeared as a young reader in the 70s! (OK, and early 80s). I scanned through the table of contents (I haven't read the book yet, but I do have it thanks to HarperCollins (hi FTC!)), and there are so many to choose from.

Should I read one of the books that I read OVER AND OVER again as a kid, that I have practically memorized? Like Harriet the Spy or The Westing Game or All of a Kind Family? My daughters have been listening to All of a Kind Family on tape in the car, and I swear I can recite what happens in The Westing Game from memory. I think I will add Harriet the Spy to the list – I just bought it for my daughters a few months ago. Maybe we will read it together.

How about the ones about being a teenage girl that I read 30 years ago, but which I don't really remember that well… like The Cat Ate My Jumpsuit or Deenie or Jacob Have I Loved or Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself?

Then there are the really sad ones, like Bridge to Terabithia (which I LOVED), or Island of the Blue Dolphins or Summer of My German Soldier?

Or I could go for the sci-fi books I loved when I read, but which I would never read now? Like A Wrinkle In Time or Ghosts I Have Been?

The rules of the challenge say that I have to choose 6 books now, but I can always revise the list as the challenge goes on. (And, of course, I am not limited to 6!). So, here is my initial list, which I am sure will change after I read Shelf Discovery:

1. The Cat Ate My Jumpsuit, by Paula Danziger (I remember loving this one).

2. Forever, by Judy Blume, which I don't think I ever read all the way through, only the dirty parts at summer camp when the counselors weren't looking.

3. Ghosts I Have Been, by Richard Peck, which I don't think I read.

4. Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson, which I know I read, and which is about twins, and because I don't think I can stomach Bridge to Terabithia.

5. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Greene, which I never read.


6. Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh.

I am excited for this challenge! Click over to Booking Mama's post to see who else is participating – and consider joining it yourself! (You don't have to have a blog to participate.) You can also follow the tweets at @bookingmama, #shelfdiscovery.

Lizzie Skurnick, Author of SHELF DISCOVERY, on Blog Talk Radio 9/23

If you're reading this blog, chances are you're a reader. (Or you're related to me and read this blog out of obligation). And if you're a reader now, chances are, you were a reader when you were younger. I know I was. (My mom has a lot of pictures of me from when I was about 8-14 years old where I have my nose stuck in a book.) I wish I had kept a list of all of the books I read back then, or even kept all of the books themselves. But I do remember some of them – the Judy Blume books, of course, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe series, and the Madeleine L'Engle books, and so many others that I read and re-read. Collectively, they made a big impression on me back when I was impressionable, and they got me to love reading. Young Adult, or YA, seems to be a much bigger genre now than it was when I was a young adult, but there were still a lot of great books around back then.


Lizzie Skurnick, who writes a column about YA books for the sharply funny blog Jezebel, has written a book called Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading. Amazon calls it a "spastically composed, frequently hilarious omnibus of meditations on
favorite YA novels [which] dwells mostly among the old-school titles from the late '60s
to the early '80s much beloved by now grown-up ladies."

If you want to hear more about Shelf Discovery, Lizzie will be interviewed on Authors on Air on Blog Talk Radio on Wednesday, September 23 at 3 PM EST. If you've never tuned into Blog Talk Radio, it's a channel of talk
shows that you can listen to online or by phone. If you do want to
listen in to the show about Lizzie and Shelf Discovery, you should register for Blog Talk Radio in advance, so that you can call in or write in with a question. Registration is free. Here is more information about Wednesday's show.

I can't wait to read Shelf Discovery and revisit some of my favorite YA books, and I am looking forward to the show.