Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Leviathan

May is Award-Winning

All these titles have won various awards for excellence. I'm a big fan of award winners, as it takes out the guess work. I open the book knowing that a whole lot of people already vouched for it. All of these are fantastic examples of YA lit, all highly recommended.

Will Grayson feels like a sidekick to his best friend: the flamboyantly gay, massive, football playing, drama loving Tiny Cooper. As if he didn't already feel like he was living in Tiny's shadow, Tiny's newest goal is to get his autobiographical musical "Tiny Dancer" performed at the high school. The aptly named Gil Wrayson is also a star in "Tiny Dancer," and you can imagine what that might mean. Meanwhile, Will is dealing with Tiny's newest ex-boyfriend drama, and trying to follow his two rules. Rule 1: shut up, rule 2: don't care too much. By following this philosophy he has managed to stay safely in the land of "no dating" and "not many friends." But he doesn't not sometimes kinda like this girl Jane that Tiny's been hanging out with in GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) ... who is probably gay anyway so what is the point, and he should just stick to the rules, what is his problem *ugh*.

will grayson is your typical emo kid, doesn't really have any friends except maura (who rivals him with her goth poetry and flippant speech, and who probably has the hots for him but won't get that he's not into her), and simon and derek (the kids he sits next to at lunch, but it's not like they really have that much in common since all those two care about are computers and video games), and isaac. isaac isn't like the rest of them. isaac befriended him online, and it's the only time all day that will doesn't feel "what's the point of this anyway?" on a fundamental and chemically depressed level. he takes his meds, but it's not like his life is rosy. his dad's gone, so it's just him and his mom ... and she needs a life almost as much as he does. but isaac is his one release from the everyday boredom in naperville, il.

Will lives in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, and after a near miss at a 21+ show, he decides he needs a fake ID. Jane takes him to get one, and they're all planning to hit up a show this weekend. Not that it's a date or anything, or that he even likes Jane that much. It's not like he thinks about her all the time, or what it would be like to kiss her, or spend time with her or anything. It's just going to be a good show, and he's excited about it. Until they get there and he flashes his brand new ID, which says he's 20 years old .... WTF! Tiny and Jane just go in without him like he's not even there, and he's pissed that they leave him, and pissed that he cares that they left, and pissed that he was too stupid to notice the problem before. Determined to have his own adventure, he walks into the porno store on the corner.

isaac wants to meet him! they are going to meet!! after a year of talking online, they make plans to meet at frenchy's in chicago. will isn't sure what that is, but he guesses it's a restaurant or something. when he finally arrives at the porn shop, he isn't sure what to think ... is this a joke? did isaac know what frenchy's was? and where IS he? beginning to despair that this has all been a setup, a long cruel setup, he hears his name: will grayson ... but the guy isn't talking to him, he's talking to another Will Grayson. is that possible? that he meets someone with the exact same name at the exact moment of his ultimate humiliation? and so he says hello, because it seems crazy to waste this fateful opportunity. and he (through Will) is introduced to tiny cooper.

Will can hardly believe his luck, another will grayson, who is gay. Tiny is going to have a field day with this. (Turns out, they really hit it off). When Jane and Tiny leave the club, they pair off - each with their own Will. He and Jane take a 10 minute time out to be completely honest, and he admits that he likes her. But it's never quite that easy, is it?

tiny cooper is...unlike anything will has ever known. he gives him courage to face up to who he is. he comes out at school, to his mom, starts to open up a little. it's like things are falling apart in one second, and getting scooped back up and put together again in the next. but it's never quite that easy, is it?

Fantastic slice of life fiction from two of my favorite YA authors. It won the Stonewall Honor Award for "exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience." The dialog is seamless, the characters are well balanced, they tackle so many touchy issues in a way that presents them as 'no big deal,' and I love that. I couldn't pick a favorite quote, so I picked one from each author. (Green writes the odd chapters, Leviathan the even.)
"me: i'm glad that you exist.
tiny: i'm glad to be existing right now.
me: you have no idea how wrong you are about me.
tiny: you have no idea how wrong you are about yourself.
me: stop that.
tiny: only if you stop it.
me: i'm warning you.
i have no idea what truth has to do with love, and vice versa. i'm not even thinking in terms of love here. it's way, way, way early for that. but i guess i am thinking in terms of truth. i want this to be truthful. and even as i protest to tiny and i protest to myself, the truth is becoming increasingly clear. it's time for us to figure out how the hell this is ever going to work," (Leviathan pg. 152, 2010).

"'... I just think if you don't say the honest thing, sometimes the honest thing never becomes true, you know, and I-' she says, but then I hold up my finger, because I need to hear the thing she just said, and she talks too fast for me to keep up. I keep holding up my hand, thinking if you don't say the honest thing, it never becomes true.
I put my hands on her shoulders, 'I just realized something ... you're totally right about saying the honest thing. I think if you keep the box closed long enough you do kill the cat, actually,'" (Green pg. 256, 2010).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Boy Meets Boy by David Leviathan
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Green, J., & Levithan, D. (2010). Will Grayson, Will Grayson. New York: Dutton.

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo (mar-SEL-o) is about to start the summer before his senior year of high school. He's got a summer job lined up to help take care of the horses at the school stables, and he can't wait to get started. His father, on the other hand, has different plans. He wants Marcelo to get outside of his comfort zone, and get some experience in the real world. Marcelo has Asperger's Syndrome, which is a psychological condition similar to autism. He has trouble understanding non-verbal cues, figures of speech, nonliteral speech, jokes, sarcasm ... he lacks understanding of some elements of basic social interaction. He attends a school for special needs children where his unique understanding isn't seen as "stupid" or "retarded." Marcelo doesn't want to go and work at his dad's law office. He knows that other people misunderstand him, and treat him differently. He would rather be around people who he is comfortable with, and who understand without judging him.

But his dad is insistent. If he successfully works at the law office over the summer, Marcelo can choose where he wants to go to school in the fall. If not, his father is sending him to public school for his senior year. Marcelo agrees reluctantly, and begins his summer in the mail room. It is clear from her "I don't like you" speech his first day that his immediate superior, Jasmine, is far from thrilled about his presence. She had wanted to hire someone else, and got Marcelo instead. As the days go by, she starts to warm to him. Although she knows that someone else would be faster, she also recognizes his high standards and precision.

Explaining his condition to her, he talks about his pervasive interest in religion. It is a common characteristic for people who are diagnosed with Asperger's and in the Autism spectrum. "It's an interest that the person chooses to think about because he gets pleasure and even joy from doing it. It absorbs the attention of the AS person to the exclusion of other interests because it is more important and more fun than other interests," (Stork pg. 57, 2009). He studies Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and others.

Arturo's partner also has a son who is working at the law firm. Wendell is attending law school, and plans to follow in his father's footsteps ... but law office lackey isn't really what he had in mind for the summer. Wendell recruits Marcelo's help with the proposal of a deal. He will help Wendell, and in exchange, Wendell will make sure that Marcelo's father sees his summer at the law firm as a success. All Wendell wants in return is Marcelo's help in securing a date with Jasmine.

The more time goes on, the more Marcelo is convinced that Wendell's intentions are far from admirable. In helping Wendell with a pending lawsuit, he comes across a picture of a girl in the "trash" pile. Her face is disfigured, most likely as a result of a Vidrokmak windshield. Vidromak makes windshields that are supposed to break into tiny pieces upon impact, rendering them safe for passengers, and Arturo's practice is defending them. This picture touches a part of Marcelo in a way he cannot explain. He is compelled to help her, in whatever small way he can. He enlists Jasmine's help, and they set about trying to find more information. Suddenly, Marcelo is faced with a moral dilemna. If his father knew about this girl, has he done anything to aid her, or is he bound to do what is best for Vidromak's bottom line? Can Marcelo proceed in his course of action without betraying either his father or himself? This is the kind of real world question that Marcelo has never encountered before. Is this something Marcelo can handle?

Stork does a masterful job of bringing you into the world of Marcelo with speech patterns, and inner monologues. You begin to see the world as perhaps Marcelo does, and recognize that different doesn't mean wrong or stupid. This is the kind of book more of our kids need to be reading in order to teach tolerance and understanding. There are all kinds of people that make up a world, and the ones who are different can be the most beautiful. This book won the Schneider Family Book Award for embodying the artistic expression of the disability experience for adolescent audiences.

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork
Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Pena

Stork, Francisco X. (2009). Marcelo in the Real World. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

The future is far from perfect. Oil supplies have dried up, storms and weather patterns have flooded most of the world. Poverty is rampant, and most people survive by boats: working on them, building them, salvaging, shipping. The Fates rule destiny, and they are cruel mistresses.

Nailer works light crew. Everyday, he and his crew scavenge the monsterous old tankers wrecked long ago for copper wiring, scrap metal, anything valuable. Anticipating a storm, he goes back into the bowels of the ship for the second time that day. If they don't make quota, there will be hell to pay from the crew boss. He's farther in than he's ever been before, and he can't see any evidence that anyone else has been this far either. Suddenly, the floor gives way and he's swimming in oil. Frantically he finds the surface, and scrambles to the edge of what seems to be a small room. He can't believe his luck, he's found a "Lucky Strike" ... but he's going to die in here before he can do anything about it. No one knows where he is, or how to find him. Despair is starting to set in, and suddenly there is someone from his crew! But poverty is too ingrained, and she leaves him - planning to come back for the oil and her own Lucky Strike later. With nothing left to lose, Nailer decides he's going to find a way out.

Everyone on the beach wants a piece of his luck, he's on top of the world. They're even calling him Lucky Boy ... until later that night when the storm hits. It's a city killer, and everyone's desperate to get clear of the beach. Somehow he even rescues his father, who is too strung out sliding on crystal to even wake up. The next morning, the beach is trashed. People are dead and missing, including crew boss Bapi. With an unexpected day off, Pima and Nailer go exploring. They find a clipper ship, one of the new tech hydrofoils, crushed from the storm. It's like another Lucky Strike! They are going to be rich! Inside is more food than they know what to do with, silver place settings, china, real swank stuff. One of the rooms looks like a bedroom, with the unlucky occupant crushed beneath the contents. At first, Nailer thinks it's another body. When they go to cut off her fingers to take her rings, she cries out. She's alive! Struggling with his conscience, and his experience the day before, he insists they save her. They pull her free, and plan to cash in when her people come to rescue her. So they call her Lucky Girl, because just like Nailer, she's lucky to be alive.

It seems like a good plan, until Nailer's dad shows up with his thugs in tow. Nailer knows that his dad won't leave Lucky Girl alive unless he can be convinced that the risk is worth the reward. They decide to make a break for it when the wrong kind of people show up to take Lucky Girl. Nailer, Tool (one of the half-men), and Lucky Girl head for Orleans. She thinks she can find a ship with loyal crew to take her back to her father, and Nailer will finally be free of the ship breaking crew. Anything is better than waiting to die on this god-forsaken beach, and so they run.

Can Nailer really escape his fate, and his father? Can Lucky Girl see more than her narrow swank view of the world, and actually make good on her promises?

This is another futuristic dystopia. The writing is very graphic, and pictures spring into your mind with his descriptive phrases. This may be a complaint for people who prefer more action to description, but this is far from a slow moving book (although there were times that it dragged). Bacigalupi's first foray into YA lit seems to have impressed the right people, as this won the Prinz award for 2011. Highly recommended for action sci-fi fans.
"Nailer shrugged again. 'Doesn't really matter. Either you're small enough for light crew, or you're big enough for heavy crew, and either way, if you're too stupid or lazy or untrustworthy, then you're neither, because no one will vouch for you. No. I don't know how old I am. But I made it onto light crew, and I made quota every day. That's what matters where I come from. Not your stupid age,'" (Bacigalupi pg. 251, 2010).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi (rumored to be sequel to Ship Breaker)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Bacigalupi, Paolo. (2010). Ship Breaker. New York: Little, Brown.

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Miles has made up his mind. He's off to boarding school for his Junior year of high school. The same boarding school that his father attended, in fact, in the heart of Alabama. He isn't sure what to expect, but his stellar social life (not), his multitude of girlfriends (yeah right), and his complete lack of real life experience couldn't possibly be any worse than what he'll encounter at Culver Creek. So far his only real talent is for memorizing famous last words...

His roommate Chip is known as The Colonel, and immediately dubs him "Pudge" (so fitting for his human bean pole appearance). It is through The Colonel that Pudge meets Alaska Young. He is smitten at first sight. On his first night at the Creek, he is awoken in the middle of the night for a hazing prank by the "Weekday Warriors." It's his first encounter with the clique that have trust funds, fancy cars, and go home every weekend. Needless to say, they don't get along too well.

The Colonel and Alaska show him the ropes, tell him about "The Eagle" (the headmaster), introduce him to delicious fried Southern delicacies like fried okra, and make him feel like he finally belongs somewhere. For the first time in his life, Pudge has real friends. They do normal high school things: play pranks on each other, wax poetic about the relative merits of bufritos, study for Pre-Calc, sneak alcohol, dodge "The Eagle." He, The Colonel, Alaska, Takumi, and Lara take smoke breaks out at the Hole. They discuss the philosophy of life.

Alaska asks Pudge: "How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?" She is unlike anyone he has ever known; moody and unpredictable, intelligent and girly, tough as nails and just about to burst into tears, all at once. She is a voracious reader, and a huge flirt. Pudge can hardly contain his affection for her, but she can't stop talking about her boyfriend. Instead, he is her friend, and listens to her whine and laugh and shares in her life. Until that day ... the day that changes everything.

None of them will ever be the same, but will they find a way to move on? Green's first novel won the Prinz award, and is just another example of his touching, heartfelt prose. Readers will be both amazed and comforted that he knows a place in you that you thought no one else did, and now it's shared and you don't feel so alone.
"Just like that. From a hundred miles an hour to asleep in a nanosecond. I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together, in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane," (Green, 2005).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:

Paper Towns by John Green
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Green, John. (2005). Looking for Alaska: A novel. New York: Dutton Children's Books.

Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan

Blake has a girlfriend (Shannon), and a friend who's a girl (Marissa). This doesn't seem like a problem, at least not to him ... and not at first. Marissa is his photography buddy. They are "Pretty and Gritty" as their teacher refers to them (she takes pretty pictures, he takes gritty ones). It's strictly platonic between them, it isn't even as if they are that close until Blake unknowingly takes a picture of Marissa's mom.

He thought he was photographing a homeless person, but when he shows the photo in class, Marissa's reaction is far from impersonal. Apparently her mom is a junkie, and that's why she lives with her grandmother. Marissa pumps Blake for information, and she rushes off to look for her.

Surprisingly enough, she finds her. Marissa's mom agrees to go into rehab, and move back in with her family. It seems like things are going pretty well, but things aren't usually that easy. Marissa starts taking crazy risks, like barrelling down a hill on a bike with 300 other crazy people!

Shannon starts thinking that maybe there's something going on between Blake and Marissa. She doesn't want to be jealous, but it seems like every time she turns around they are together. It's especially hard for Blake because he doesn't feel like he can tell Shannon about Marissa's personal problems. Is there a way for the three of them to coexist? Can Blake find a balance between the girl he loves and the girl who needs him?

This story is so full of perfect touches. Their family pet is the Dog Formerly Known as Prince, Blake revels in the "first laugh of the day," his brother Garrett refers to him as Studly, his brother has it bad for a school dj called Cappy, his mom says things like "he'll rue the day!" ... so many special things that cannot be included in a synopsis. The humor thoughout really makes this story shine. Her insight into the teenage male is astounding. Recommended for males, and anyone who appreciates a quirky, realistic tale. Madigan won the Morris YA Debut award for excellence in a first novel.
"Then I have a close-up of black pavement where someone scattered a bunch of white petals. It made me wonder if some girl was picking up the petals, saying 'He loves me ... he loves me not ...' or if some guy got stood up by a girl and was ripping up the flowers as he walked away.
My favorite shot is the one that's the most depressing: a woman, dressed all in black and gray, is passed out against the side of a dirty gray building. Even her pale arm looks dirty and gray, with a tattoo of a snake slithering down it. The only color in the shot is a streak of bright purple in her hair. Marissa grabs the photo and holds it closer to her face. She gasps, a ragged sound that breaks through the murmur of other people. 'That's my mom!'" (Madigan, 2009).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Mermaid's Mirror by L.K. Madigan
How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford

Madigan, L.K. (2009). Flash Burnout. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume by Jeff Smith

Bone is a classic: fantastic for all ages, and even better the second time around. I hadn't read this in a while. It came across the library check-in counter, and it just had to come home with me. I read the majority of it waiting around or flying in between airports on a recent vacation. While having it all collected into one volume is handy, it is also VERY HEAVY. I do not recommend this as a travel size, to say the least. However, my temporary discomfort gave way to instant enjoyment as I turned every page. I've heard it referred to as "Lord of the Rings meets Dickens - but funnier," and I am inclined to agree.

The Bone cousins have been run out of Boneville after another one of Phoney's schemes goes awry. The three cousins - Phoney, Smiley, and Fone (pronounced "funny") - make their way through unfamiliar terrain until they are separated in the woods. Fone is lost. He thought he was following a trail of Phoney's cigars, but it turns out they belonged to a dragon (yes, a dragon!). He is chased by some rat creatures who apparently want to bake him into a quiche! Luckily, he runs into some nice kids (animals and insects), and they point him in the direction of Gran'ma Ben and Thorn (humans). This turns out to be fantastic advice for Fone. Little heart bubbles start erupting above his head the moment he sees Thorn.

Her kind heart compels her to offer him a place to stay for the night, and the two plan to ask Gran'ma Ben if he can stay longer. They win her over, and settle in for the winter. Fone plans to search for his cousins as soon as spring comes. All winter Fone pines over Thorn, writing her terrible love poems, searching for just the right words to express himself, but he never shows them to anyone.

When spring arrives, so do Smiley and Phoney who have been staying in town. Smiley arrived first, and Phoney ran into him there. Phoney's natural greed kicks in and he starts another "get rich quick" scheme to get as much out of the villagers as he can...which begins to reflect negatively on Gran'ma Ben's cow chasing abilities (you just have to read it). Meanwhile, Thorn is starting to have weird dreams about dragons and princesses and The Dreaming. The rat monsters are being seen more often around the village. Everyone is starting to get nervous, and Gran'ma Ben seems to know more than she's telling.

There is more to this graphic novel than meets the eye. Far from just a sweet comedic tale, this involves fantasy, adventure, life lessons, and great characters. To tell much more would be a disservice to readers, so I won't. Just pick it up today, and you won't be sorry. I read the entire 1332 page tome in less than 4 days. I recommend this for early readers, reluctant readers, graphic novel fans, boys, girls, grandmas, families, and classrooms.
Fone's attempt to illude the rat creatures on his flight through the forest.
*Library Link*

 If you liked this, check out:
Rose by Jeff Smith
The Stonekeeper (Amulet, Book 1) by Kazu Kibuishi
Fables: Deluxe Edition 1 by Willingham, Buckingham, and Medina

Smith, Jeff. (2004). Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume. Columbus, Ohio: Cartoon Books.