Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Review: We Are The Goldens

We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt. Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Nell and Layla. Two sisters so close, in age and friendship, that as a toddler Nell thought she and her older sister shared a name: Nellayla.

Time passes, and things change, but Nell, fifteen, is convinced one thing does not: the sisters Golden. Their parents divorce? The sisters survive and thrive. High school? Even though Layla is two grades ahead, her younger sister is always welcome and invited.

At first, high school is exactly what Nell expected and hoped. She is Layla's younger sister. Nell gets on her sister's soccer team. Nell gets invited to junior parties.

But something is wrong. Something isn't quite right. Is it just Layla growing up, growing away from her sister? Or is it something more?

The Good: I've been on such a roll with loving the books I'm reading!

Nell, the younger sister, is telling the story. Nell, who seems their story as one: we are the Goldens. This is not Layla's story, not a story of growing up, growing older, growing away. This is the story of the one left behind: Nell.

Barely two years separate the girls; they only reason they are two grades apart is when they were enrolled in school.

Layla is older, and living her own life, but she's also keeping secrets from her sister.

And, as usual, I adore Reinhardt's writing and complicated families. Layla and Nell are the children of older parents; their mother was over 40 when they were born, Layla the result of IVF and Nell the surprise baby, the old-fashioned way. Their parents later divorced. They are well off enough for private school, but not for Layla to have the car she wants.

Early in the book, Layla has convinced her mother to allow her to stay home during a family vacation, a yearly spa weekend with the girls, their mother, and their grandmother. Nell is suspicious of Layla, and Layla's reasons (so much homework!) and surprised that her mother allows it. Her mother later says, "It was only a matter of time before her private life became more important than what she does with her family. It's part of growing up. It'll happen to you too, it probably already is happening to you. And that's okay. It really is, even though I'd much prefer for you to always be my baby."

And while I like that the mother understands her elder daughter's growing independence, and wants to support it, what I love is what the mother says next: "It's okay. Because someday you and your sister will do exactly this. You'll come to an airport somewhere to pick me up and all you'll want to do is be with me, with someone who knows and understands you, and we'll spend the whole weekend talking." Maybe it's because their mother came to parenthood at an older age, when she herself was more mature. Whatever the reason, she gets the long game of parent/child relationships, and realizes and accepts that a child moves away but will come back.

If only it was that simple, for Nell and Layla, that their relationship is changing and that Nell has to adjust and not cling to the past.

Spoiler, here. Necessary. Not entirely a surprise, as it's in the story summary and publication data. It's not just that Layla is getting her own interests or wants distance from her sister, it's not that she is becoming an individual rather than a sister or daughter. It's the why it's happening. Layla is involved with her teacher. He is why there are secrets.

Poor Nell: at first it seems as if she's just the clinging younger sister, who won't give her sister breathing room, who can only identify herself as sister. Except she realizes there is something more, and this puts Nell in a difficult, impossible situation. How does she support Layla? How does she show her love? Is it by keeping Layla's secrets, remaining the one person Layla can trust?

Losing Layla -- because even at best, Layla's new focus is her new boyfriend -- leaves Nell a bit adrift. She has her best friend, Felix, and there is a boy she has a crush on, Sam. Layla putting up distance pushes Nell into exploring her own interests, doing things that Layla wouldn't do.

Here's the thing about Nell and Layla: maybe, because Nell has always had Layla, she hasn't had a girl friend. She has Felix De La Cruz, who is a best friend and, maybe, something more. But Nell has a crush on Sam -- and wow, I just loved how wonderfully We Are the Goldens depicts that crush, that hoping for something, then hoping for something more. And Nell is left to navigate her feelings and emotions almost alone, because Layla is all about her own love life and Felix wants to be a good friend but he has his own things to deal with.

This is not Layla's story. There are parts of it Nell will never know, so the reader will never know. It is Layla's story through Nell's eyes and experiences, but more importantly it is Nell's story. And her story is about growing up, and growing apart, and choices.

And lucky me! Another Favorite Book Read in 2014.

Other reviews: BiblioSmiles; The Lit Girl; Books & Cleverness.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review: Pointe

Pointe by Brandy Colbert. G.P. Putnam's Sons, an Imprint of Penguin Group (USA). 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: Theo's life is in a good place. Some would say a very good place. She's one of the top ballet dancers in her class. She has good friends and a boy who is interested in her. The heartache and problems of the past -- the breakup with her first love, her best friend disappearing and feared dead, her parents' overreaction to Theo's resulting depression and eating issues -- are in the past.

The past comes back, fast and furious.

Donovan is found. Alive. It's been four years and Donovan is alive and coming home. Relief and joy and tinged with something else: fear.

Because Theo recognizes the face of Donovan's kidnapper. She knew him by a different name, but she knew him.

He was the boy she loved, the person who broke her heart when he left her. It's the same man.

Everything Theo thought she knew, about Donovan, about her old boyfriend, about herself, is about to be turned inside out. At least she still has ballet, but how long will that last, when people find out?

The Good: The Good? Everything. Everything is good.

Theo is such a complex, amazing, interesting young woman.

Readers of this blog may remember, I like to keep notes as I read -- I sketch family trees and timelines, jot down ages and names. As I'm sketching this out while reading Pointe, I realize what Theo does not. Oh, I also realize it because I'm old, a grown up, I'm not a teenager. When Theo was with her first love, Trent, the person she loves and believes was wonderful, Theo was thirteen. And Trent was eighteen.

Theo was crushed when Trent disappeared on her, and had few people to confide in because there were so few people who knew about Theo and Trent. Donovan was the only person, actually, who knew. Now that Donovan has been found, Theo learns not just that Donovan was with Trent, but that Trent's real name is Christopher. And that he's thirty. Which means that not only did he lie to her about his name, he also lied about his age: instead of being eighteen, he was twenty-six. And she was thirteen.

And here is one reason I just flat out adored Theo: through all this, she's thinking "what about me" and "what does this mean to me." She dances around what all this means to Donovan, wondering mostly if Donovan ran away with Christopher and voluntarily stayed with him.

Part of what I loved about Pointe was how long it takes Theo to come to the place that you, the reader, does.

What Theo had wasn't love; it never was. But her love for Trent (well, Christopher) was such a part of Theo's identity, that she just cannot look at the facts, the numbers -- she has to deal with the emotions. Her love. And because she has to believe that what she had was real, when she looks at Donovan she believes about him what she believes about herself: that the then-thirteen year old Donovan had a choice, a choice about being with and staying with Christopher.

Donovan has been silent since his return home, not leaving his house, not talking to anyone, including Theo. No one knows Theo's secret. And part of Theo is very happy -- and very relieved -- at Donovan's silence.

From the outside, Theo looks put together and strong. You'd have to be, to become such a talented dancer. Pointe is clear about the dedication it takes to reach the place that Theo is now at. The reality? Then, she was a thirteen year old girl swayed by the attentions of an older boy, wanting to be loved, wanting to make him happy. Now, it turns out, is not that much better. Hosea, the boy she likes, is her age, goes to her school, but, in addition to being the local drug dealer, is dating someone else.

Theo doesn't quite realize the parallels between the two loves of her life. Oh, the present boy is age-appropriate and also power-appropriate. They are equals. Which means that what the present relationship shows the reader is what Theo thinks is mutual affection and respect and love; what she'll put up in order to get what she thinks is love; what she'll settle for.

As you can see from all those paragraphs, what intrigues me the most about Pointe is the relationships and emotional journey of Theo. There is so much more! Hosea, for example, is a fully realized character, and may be the nicest, sweetest, drug dealer cheater in book history. I so understood why Theo likes him and wants him, even as I realized that it was much less clear cut than Theo believes.

Theo is one of the only black kids in her dance class, in her school, in her neighborhood. Donovan was only of the others. This matters, in that it shows her relationship with her peers. What it means when the topic of segregation comes up in school, and she is asked to give examples of what that meant to her family.

And of course this is a mystery: what happened to Donovan? What, if anything, should Theo say about what she knows? And it's a story about being passionate about something as all-consuming and physical as ballet.  And it's about friendship, I haven't even mentioned Theo's two best friends, Sara-Kate and Phil. Or Theo and eating, and what she eats and why, and how that is part of who Theo is rather than the only thing.

Because this is such an elegant, complex book this is one of my Favorite Books Read in 2014.

Other reviews: Stacked; Slate Breakers; Los Angeles Review of Books.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Friday, May 16, 2014

Teens Today! They Don't Read!

This week's panic about teens is reflected in two articles, NPR's Why Aren't Teens Reading Like They Used To? and Time's Study: The Number of Teens Reading for Fun Keeps Declining. Both are based on Common Sense Media's research, Children, Teens, and Reading.

Disclaimer the first: long time readers of this blog know I'm suspicious of Common Sense Media, dating back to the early, biased reviews. I'm skeptical of a set up that says, if you don't agree with their ratings, or research, you don't have "common sense" and there is something wrong for not agreeing. That said, with the corrections to the earlier reviews, I do pass along the website to those parents who want to count curse words and kisses.

Back to the research and the news stories. I wish there had been more thought put into them.

I have little patience with "the kids, they are not reading like they used to" because any type of dismissal of teens today has to be done by selecting a time period and socioeconomic section that is selected to make today's teens look bad. The article, 120 Years of Literacy (the National Center for Educational Statistics), explains that "However, in the late 19th century and early 20th century, illiteracy was very common. In 1870, 20 percent of the entire adult population was illiterate, and 80 percent of the black population was illiterate." Or let's go up in time a bit, to 1940: "In 1940, more than half of the U.S. population had completed no more than an eighth grade education."

According to the History Channel article on Child Labor, in 1900, 18% of all American workers were under 16.

These types of reports can never go too far back in time if they want today's teens to look bad, because the further back you go, the less literate the population was, the less time teens had for recreational activities, and the less access people had to books. (In terms of access to literature and the cost of books, see The Smithsonian's How the Paperback Novel Changed Popular Literature.) (And then there is the history of public libraries in the US, and reading and literacy.).

So -- yes -- I'm not going to panic when teens today may read less than they did 30 years ago but more than they did 80 years ago or 100 years ago or 150 years ago. Whether that is even true is something Kelly Jensen is examining in her post on this over at  Stacked.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, the thesis is true: kids read less now.


Common Sense Media reaches the conclusion that the fault is in "reading environments" -- "electronic platforms on which children read also hold a host of divisions that are only a click away."

From NPR: "The studies do not say that kids are reading less because they're spending more time online. But [Jim Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media] is convinced that's at least part of the answer."

Time gives a nod to another possibility: "The decline in reading for fun is most easily explained by technological advances (i.e., kids would rather text than read), but education could have something to do with it as well. It’s no surprise that 53% of 9-year-olds read for fun every day, but only 19% of 17-year-olds do. Yes, the teenagers have more Instagrams to post, but they also have more homework to do."

Common Sense Media looks only at studies other groups have done on time spent reading, not on "why". Their report only talks about one possible reason: electronic distractions. (And in talking about ebooks, Common Sense Media does not acknowledge that ebooks have given the print disabled access to books they otherwise wouldn't have.)

Here is a quick list of some of the other reasons teens today may not be reading as much.
  • Increased homework, as Time points out.
  • Increased testing and emphasis on testing in schools.
  • Elimination of school libraries and librarians.
  • Decreases in funding for books for school libraries. 
  • Closings of public libraries.
  • Decreases in funding for books in public libraries.
  • A recession that resulted in less spending money by families (parents and teens) for books.
  • Bookstores going out of business.
  • Increased emphasis on extracurricular activities to get into college.
  • Teen burn out during the school year.
  • Teen employment.
  • A culture that views reading as passive and consuming, rather than active and creating, so doesn't support reading as an acceptable recreational activity.
I'm sure you can add one or two things to this list

What most of these have in common? They are things beyond the control of a family; and they don't have to do with ereading and devices.

One last point. And I say this as someone who loves reading and books.

When it comes to kids and recreational reading, here are the questions I have. Look at those readers from 30 years ago. Look at them now. Do they have better jobs? Are they earning more money? Did they go on to higher education? Are they happy? In other words, does reading for pleasure mean anything other than.... someone likes to read for pleasure?

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

NJLA Annual Conference

One thing I like about the New Jersey library community:

They know how to throw a good conference!

The New Jersey Library Association is having their annual conference June 2 to 4 in Atlantic City.

I'll be involved in the following sessions:

The Who/What/When/Where/How of Successful Online Book Discussion: a Panel Discussion Tues, 9:00-9:50

Best of the Best Fiction for Young Adults Tues, 11:30-12:20

Book Buzz for Young Adults and Children Tues, 2:00-2:50

I.D. Required - Books Beyond the Drinking Age Wed, 11:30-12:20

Apps, Audiobooks, and Libraries – Oh, my! Wed, 2:30-3:20

Yes, that sounds like a lot -- and, well, it is five -- but all are panels, so it's not five solo programs. They are all group efforts.

I will have time for actually attending programs!

Top of my list are What Is This? Middle Grade? YA? New Adult? Top Authors Address Category Crossover Confusion and the Garden State Book Awards Luncheon with Daniel Kirk.

Hope to see some of you there!

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Review: We Were Liars

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House). 2014. Review from ARC.

The Plot: Cady, nearly eighteen, had a terrible accident two years before. She is still recovering, still not herself. Cady is hoping that a summer spent with her three best friends, the "Liars," will make things better. Or, that it will be a start to being the person she used to be.

Love, friendship, loyalty, family. This is what Cady thinks she is returning to. Cady thinks her summer will be about healing and friendship, brought to her by being with those she loves.

Instead, she is going to learn the truth.

The Good: Cady tells us her story, and she frames it not in who she is but in who her family is. "Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure."

She is a Sinclair. And "we were liars."

The Sinclairs are a rich family. No, even richer than that. Her grandfather took family money and made even more. Each of his three daughters has a trust fund. The family summers on an island, an island that is home just to the family. In addition to the family home, each daughter has her own house. No one else lives on the island, well, except for the help during the summer. Oh, they are rich, and beautiful, and privileged.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Altered Perceptions

What is Altered Perceptions?

As described at the Indiegogo site for Altered Perceptions, "Altered Perceptions is an anthology of great authors, donating their work to help author Robison Wells, who's crippled by debt, caused by his mental illnesses."

Full details are at the Indiegogo page. It explains Wells' mental illnesses, the impact, and what the funds that are being raised will (and won't) be used for. The anthology will be original work, a mix of short stories and deleted scenes.

One reason I wanted to highlight this campaign is the treatment of mental health issues in the media, in books, in casual talk. Mental illness is not talked about the way that we talk about cancer, yet the impact, financial and otherwise, is the same. An illness is an illness is an illness. And this campaign is for Wells, yes, but is also to raise awareness of mental illness. The funding goal is high, because they're "also hoping that we can reach our goal and then overshoot it, to have money to set up a foundation for authors who suffer from mental illness. We know that many authors--even authors contributing to this anthology--are struggling with mental illnesses."

The second reason is Robison Wells is not just an author, but a young adult author, and I'm Team YA all the way!

The campaign started in April, so some of the perks are already claimed. But, there are still plenty of great perks, from books to a writing retreat to dinner and a movie with James Dashner.

The campaign ends May 24.

More: Claudia Gray's interview with Robison Wells; Tanita Davis explains her support of the project; a 2012 Guest Post by Wells at Teen Librarian Toolbox; Shannon Hale's post on writers, mental illness, and this campaign.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Vidcon - I'm Mad As Hell UPDATED

I have tried to write this post without being mad. Staying calm. Giving the benefit of the doubt.

And no matter where I begin, I end the same place: mad as hell.

For background on Vidcon, harassment, allegations about sexual abuse and/or misconduct, DFTB Records, and Youtube stars, please check out my past post about this, Power and Policies and Ages.

One pertinent part of my post: "In summary, the allegations are about a YouTuber and his ex-girlfriend, as the YouTube article on power relations explains the allegations, and includes this: “[the relationship] started when she was just 15 and progressed to physical abuse shortly after she turned 16, under the legal age of consent in Missouri. The two met at Vidcon 2010 when she was 14 and he was 21.

When I wrote that, in March -- when the allegations described above first surfaced -- I noted (as others had) Vidcon's apparent lack of public policies, but my focus was on libraries.

As I read more, especially about the videotaped harassment of girls last year in the How To Pick Up Girls episode at Vidcon 2013, I got angrier. Please note that this is the most "ideal" type of harassment a person could hope for in that you can't argue with a recording. The articles about this at the time championed Vidcon's attendees for being on the side of the girls: see YouTube Kids Remember to Be Awesome and This Week At Vidcon No, Randomly Grabbing Girls is Not OK. What was "awesome" was that bystanders said something and the people who did this were thrown out of Vidcon, and the girls weren't accused of, well, the usual stuff. Cynical me wonders how "awesome" the response would have been without hard evidence, but as I said, I AM MAD.

John Green (who with his brother, Hank, cofounded Vidcon and are the two public members of the entity that runs Vidcon), posted in his tumblr about this in a post named, "Things That Go Without Saying But Apparently Don't So I'm Going To Say Them." Green proceeds to set out what appears to be a code of conduct/anti harassment policy for Vidcon: don't harass others, there will be a number for those to report things next year, people were "clearly" informed of Vidcon standards.


Despite Green saying this in a post 8 months ago, the actual, real, entity of Vidcon?


Oh, I thought, it's just not on the Vidcon website and while that may be troubling when it comes to findability and transparency, there is something, right?


C.C. Finlay directly asked Vidcon and got a response that in a nutshell says "we're awesome so we don't need that." No, really -- go read his full post at "So I Asked For a Link to Vidcon's Harassment Policy and They Said They Didn't Need One." Read it and then think about this part of Vidcon's response:

"As far as an official harassment and conduct policy goes, I don't know that we have anything publicly available yet. VidCon attendees, guests, and staff are extremely respectful to each other, and we work hard to provide a safe environment at our event. It's because of this that there hasn't historically been a need for such policies. Though as VidCon continues to grow, I think it is important to have something in place, and we're certainly looking into it."


Vidcon attendees are just so respectful by default that this type of stuff doesn't happen. Ignore the stuff listed above.

This is problematic on so many levels. Partly, because when your belief is, well, we are respectful people who don't do that type of stuff, you create a situation that makes it that much harder for someone who is subject to harassment. Because hey, maybe I'm being wrong to object to the person making me uncomfortable or touching my body -- this is an extremely respectful place, right, so if it's happening it means its OK and anyway who do I tell?

This is especially true when it's a teen, who, no matter how intelligent and smart, is still a teen who doesn't have the same range of knowledge and experience when it comes to this. Who do they tell, when there is no code or policy that includes a name of a trained staff person to talk to? Many teens would think "but then I'll get in trouble for letting it happen, and I'll be punished by not being allowed to come next year, and maybe it was my fault for smiling." Adults certainly think some of this.

And another thing: if you have no avenue for people to report abuse and harassment, how can you confidently say it doesn't happen?

Bottom line: Vidcon was aware in August 2013 that they needed a policy and, in Green's own words, could not rely on everyone knowing what "goes without saying."

It's now May, a new Vidcon is fast approaching, and .... nothing. Nothing has changed.

With no changes, Vidcon is not a safe place. And those changes are easy to make: simply make Green's informal tumblr post the actual Vidcon policy.

Edited to add: (5/3/14, 1:40 PM EST)

Some new developments!! Via Twitter, Vidcon pointed me to their tumblr post (dated today) which contained the following, new information:

"Just wanted to reach out real quick and clarify that VidCon has always planned on disseminating and enforcing an official code of conduct policy prior to the execution of this year’s event. It will, of course, include anti-harassment elements. It is true that in the past we have advocated for decent behavior and relied on the sound judgment of our guests, attendees, and crew to determine when the line was crossed, (and unfortunately we have had to remove disruptive attendees in the past) but this year we will spell it out point blank - we are currently refining that policy via our legal counsel, a community-based task force that was formed some months ago, and our service providers (security, venue, etc) to make sure that the “official” policy is legitimate, enforceable, and reasonable. We’ll keep everyone posted. Thanks for your concerns! Best, Michael (Chief Operating Officer of VidCon.)"

Yes, this is different from the Vidcon response Finlay received.

While I am glad, and relieved, to see this, I hope that part of their process includes staff training -- so that questions like Finlay's get this response, rather than the response that was given. We adults in the workforce may sigh when we have to go to yet another HR policy training workshop, but it matters that all employees are aware of policies.

I also hope that task force includes a variety of voices and experiences.

Updated 5/52014, 12:30 PM

First, check the comments to see Sarah's very complete, and documented, list of various instances that relate to past Vidcons which show part of the problem is the delay in having any code or policy.

Second, another update! This on the "taskforce" which was more of a result of several allegations -- for a list of all links, which is continuing to be updated, check the tumblr Unpleasant Myles.

So, this: Combatting Sexual Violence in Youtube Communities.

Glass half full: FINALLY, information, a timeline!

Glass half empty: still no transparency about the make up of who is involved. (Who makes these posts? When someone with Vidcon only uses their first name, it's hard to know who they are ... or to look at Vidcon's own site for information on staff.)

This still doesn't resolve the underlying Vidcon issue: that (as Sarah points out) in 2012 they knew about Lombardo; in 2013, picking up girls and the song with offensive rapey lyrics; so why the wait until mid March 2014 and the Milsom allegations to move forward on a policy or code or whatever you want to call it? Why is Vidcon more unique than ComicCon or SF cons etc, that it's taking them longer to put together a policy ... well, it's tough to decide the timeline of putting together a timeline of how long Vidcon has/should have been working on something.

Or the new issue: that if I'm not on social media, connected to the right twitter and tumblr accounts, I'm unaware of this. So, the parent of the teen who is begging to attend Vidcon? All they continue to know is Vidcon's unchanged FAQ, saying it's OK with Vidcon if it's OK with parents and having no chaperone tickets for those parents.

I'll keep updating this, in part to have a one-place for pertinent links.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Friday, May 02, 2014

We Need Diverse Books -- Photos

Yesterday, in the We Need Diverse Books campaign:

Taking a photo of a sign, "we need diverse books...." and submitting it to the tumblr.

Here, my contribution to the We Need Diverse Books tumblr:

I also shared it at my tumblr, which I'm still playing around with.

Go check out the We Need Diverse Books for more photos and signs.

As a reminder about today"On May 2nd, the second part of our campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm (EST) using the same hashtag." (I'll be at work, so I'll be taking a super late lunch to participate from 2 to 2:30).

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy