Monday, January 24, 2011

Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness

In late September, I had the honor of attending an author visit for the all school read at one of the high schools in my school district.  The author was Patrick Ness.  The book, the first in the Chaos Walking trilogy--The Knife of Never Letting Go.  I was a poor visitor--I had just started the book and had not finished it.  But shortly after hearing him talk at one of the almost all school assemblies (I think they had him do 2 or 3 talks because not everyone fit into the auditorium) and having the privilege to have lunch with him with the other school media specialists, I gobbled up not just the KoNLG, but the entire Chaos Walking trilogy!!  My husband and I even jockeyed for who got to read the book because we both had our own bookmarks in the books.  (Btw, husband won!  I gave in and he finished before me.)

For a fast-paced science fiction read that will make you think--read this series!  Here's the premise for The Knife of Never Letting Go direct from the author's website:
Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown.

But Prentisstown isn't like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in a constant, overwhelming, never-ending Noise. There is no privacy. There are no secrets.

Or are there?

Just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd unexpectedly stumbles upon a spot of complete silence.

Which is impossible.

Prentisstown has been lying to him.

And now he's going to have to run...

This series is about information overload and how the humans on this alien planet deal with the information overload.    One of the main characters describes it this way, "That's what New World is.  Informayshun, all the time, never stopping, whether you want it or not. The Spackle knew it, evolved to live with it, but we weren't equipped for it.  Not even close.  And too much infromayshun becomes just Noise.  And it never, never stops."

New world is a place where lies and truths are garbled together in Noise, and Todd must decipher what is what:  "It's a fantasy, a lie, but the lies of men are as vivid as their truths and I can see every bit of it."  The Noise grabs you--literally as a text feature that jumps off of the page. Who said what?

It's a coming of age story, a love story, a story of survival, with some aliens (Spackle) thrown in who have their own story.  It is a whirlwind of activity and you won't stop until you put it down.

Of note:  The Knife of Never Letting Go won the Guardian Award in 2008 (Comparable to the US's Newbery, this award is for British authors with works published in the UK.)  It was also shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2009 (Comparable to being a Newbery Honor Book, this award is also for an outstanding children's or YA book published and is sponsored by the equivalent of the US's ALA).The Ask and the Answer (Book 2 in Chaos Walking) was also shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal last year.   In other words--high acclaim.  Worth a read! :)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

For Christmas 2009 I received a copy of Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  I had never read it before.  It was one of those titles that, as a librarian, I knew it should have read.  Knew that I should read--someday.  One that I remember friends reading in junior high and high school.  It's on so many all-time great reading lists, I felt like I must have been missing something.

If you know me, you know that sometimes my reading pile gets a bit out of control and unfortunately this lovely work got lost in the shuffle during 2010.  I finally picked it up in September and then decided I should find an audio CD of it for fear I would never finish it. So, at long last, I listened to Betty Smith's classic tale of childhood. (And, ahem, I did finish listening to it prior to Thanksgiving, but blogging about it, got lost in the shuffle, too.)

Two key thoughts struck me from reading this book.

1. It is one of the most beautifully written pieces of prose that I have ever read.  In my copy of the book, author Anna Quindlen answers the question "What is the book about?" by stating in the foreward: "The best anyone can say is that it is a story about what it means to be human." It is eloquent and real.  Descriptions feel so vivid that the world of pre-WWI Brooklyn lives.  Its smells and sounds, its dirt, its harsh realities--they are alive in Smith's writing.  Quindlen also notes, "There is little need for embellishment in these stories; their strength is in the simple universal emotion they evoke." And that must be something of what struck me.  The story so simple, but Smith's writing pulls you in so dramatically that you can't help but laugh and cry and feel the Nolan family's struggles.

2.  However.   Can you guess what I'm going to pick at?  And really I'm just picking at the stereotype, not the writing.  Yep, that darned librarian stereotype.  The book begins and ends with Francie visiting the local library; Francie being determined to read each and every titles in the library starting in alphabetical order by title.  Here is her interaction with the librarian at the beginning of the story:

She stood the desk a long time before the librarian deigned to attend to her. "Yes?" inquired that lady pettishly.  "This book. I want it....She took the card, stamped it, pushed it down a slot in the desk.  She stamped Francie's card and pushed it at her.  Francie picked it up but she did not go away.
"Yes?" The librarian did not bother to look up.
"Could you recommend a good book for a girl?" 
 "How old?"
 "She is eleven."
Each week Francie made the same request and each week the librarian asked the same question.  A name on a card meant nothing to her and since she never looked into a child's face, she never did get to know the little girl who took a book out every day and two on Saturday. A smile would have meant a lot to Francie and friendly comment would have made her so happy.  She loved the library and was anxious to worship the lady in charge.  But the librarian had other things on her mind.  She hated children anyhow.  
And the librarian goes on to recommend one of the same two books she recommends each time Francie asks this question. 

Oh, how this scene made my blood boil! Had I not been in the car listening to it, I could have chucked the book across the room! Ah, but that is the tried and true stereotype.  And the book was published in 1943.  And I should be a bit more forgiving.  But it irritated me and made me sad.  Mostly it made me sad because I am a children's librarian and each and every day I work hard to defeat this stereotype and connect kids to books.  That is my rant today.  Sigh...