On a car trip to a workshop in April, I got into a conversation with another bookseller about how great Rainbow Rowell’s book Eleanor & Park is. I must have mentioned several times how much I enjoyed writing the review for that book. At that same workshop another bookseller was talking about reading Rowell’s new book, Fangirl (St. Martin’s, $18.99, out today). What?!?! A new book by Rowell? Why did I not know about this? Where’s my copy? Well I went to request a digital reading copy (booksellers can do that and it’s awesome). It wasn’t available. I logged in on our store owner’s account and it wasn’t available to her either. I emailed our rep. She put in a request. It didn’t go through. I emailed again. We spoke on the phone. I check both my and the store owner’s accounts daily. Nothing. Then the ARC arrived in the mail. I almost had to throw down with a co-worker for right to first read. Lucky for me, my name was on the package. I don’t know that I’ve ever worked so hard to get an ARC before. And it was totally worth it. In a lot of ways, Eleanor & Park is better. There is something about that book that just works. The almost glacial evolution of their relationship is bizarrely satisfying. Fangirl also contains a slow moving relationship, but this book is more about Cath and saying that Eleanor & Park is better in no way reflects on how interesting Fangirl really is.
Cath is a first year at university. She’s unhappy with the direction her life is taking, especially since a lot of those directions are outside of her control. She doesn’t like not living with her twin sister. She doesn’t like that her dad is living alone. She doesn’t like that she feels forced to expand her horizons and meet new people. What Cath really wants to do is write fan fiction shipping Simon Snow and Baz from her (and everyone else’s) favorite Simon Snow series. And she’s good at it. She has thousands of followers. Her fiction has spawned crafts on Etsy. She’s been noted as one of THE fan fiction writers to read. Simon Snow is an homage to Harry Potter with a little Twilight thrown in, and Rowell really excels at penetrating important and engaging concepts within fandom: plagiarism, ownership, the god-like act of writing, sub-culture, finding your own writing voice, and even the juxtaposition between living online and living real life. Are they your friends, if you’ve never met them? Fangirl is a fantastically fun book and the layers of fiction writing that exist in this novel are impressive. Intertextual scholars are going to have a field day with this one. As for me, I’ll be watching for Rowell’s next book.
Walter Dean Myers’s Darius & Twig (HarperCollins, $17.99, out today) packs a lot of big thoughts into a compact book. Darius wants to be a writer, but he’s struggling to understand his story. Twig is a natural runner. The two boys are best friends and fiercely support each other, even when no one else does. This story touches on community, loyalty, family, violence, respect, dreaming big, but it manages to address all of this things with a subtlety that is remarkable. Myers paints a very clear and lucid picture and then steps back quietly, while letting others make observations. He doesn’t set out to teach lessons, or impose anything on his readers. Instead, he tells a deceptively straightforward story about two friends that can be enjoyed on its own. For readers who want to push further into the story, however, the setting is incredibly rich, the secondary characters are interesting and complex, and the representations of class, race, socioeconomics, education, athletics are thought provoking. More than that, however, this story describes how writing forces us to look deeply inside of ourselves. I hope that high schools adopt this book and start using it in their writing classes. The evolution of Darious’s story is phenomenal. There are no easy answers, but what I love are the subtle changes as Darius looks critically at himself and his world. Myers’s reputation proceeds him. There’s a reason.
The Candy Smash is Jacqueline Davies most recent addition to the Lemonade War series (HMH, $15.99). Like Davies’s previous books (The Lemonade War, The Lemonade Crime, and The Bell Bandit), The Candy Smash contains a central theme around which the plot and chapters are organized. This time it’s writing. As usual, Davies does an excellent job showcasing different perspectives about the theme. Jessie, always pragmatic, is working on writing a newspaper. She approaches her self-assigned editorial job with structured design, following the rules of journalism to the letter. Evan, on the other hand, enjoys the emotions that envelop him during the class’s morning poetry reading. He plays with words, letting them swirl and play freely. This story takes place in February so the looming prospect of Valentine’s Day is wrecking a bit of havoc on their fourth grade classroom. When Jessie decides to investigate class crushes, she dances dangerously close to exposing too much and unwittingly embarrassing her classmates. Evan does intercede — thankfully because I was really starting to get worried. Although he protects his classmates, his own dabbling in poetry teaches him to take a few emotional risks of his own. Another incredibly satisfying book by Davies. Kids and 4th grade teachers will eat this one up.
Traditionally Lisa Schroeder writes YA novels in free verse. I wasn’t familiar with her work, but a customer approached me a few months ago to say that Schroeder was publishing a new book and ask whether the store would be interested in having a display. That display has ballooned into a poetry contest (starting next week) and hopefully will generate other possibilities. I love the idea of a customer being so passionate about an author’s work that she would be willing to help the local bookstore coordinate an event.
Falling for You (Simon Pulse, $16.99) is an issues book with a happy ending. Rae lives with her mother and a controlling, abusive step-father. He demands she take care of the house, cook his dinner, and eventually turn over her paychecks from the Flower Shop where she works after school. Rae’s solace is her poetry. She writes through her pain and, because she is afraid to tell even her closest friends about her home life, poetry is her only outlet of expression. When Rae meets Nathan, she is surprised at how much he seems to like her. Rae is even more surprised to slowly discover that Nathan’s feelings towards her are less about love than they are about his need to control her. Leo is the “good-guy next door” and appears poised to rescue Rae from both of these destructive relationships, but fortunately Schroeder emphasizes Rae’s poetry as the catalyst for growth, self-awareness, and motivation. When the high school English teacher solicits poetry for the school newspaper, Rae asks for permission to submit her poetry anonymously. Other students follow suit, and the paper begins to showcase the pain and struggles of her classmates. Rae wonders, however, whether anonymity allows for more honest expression or inadvertently conveys that pain should be hidden. She eventually decides that writing anonymously is keeping her peers, and herself, from getting the support and help that they so desperately need. She attaches her name to one of her poems, and once again her peers follow her lead. She, according to the English teacher, has started a poetry revolution, one that spreads and inspires people in ways Rae could not have imagined.