Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Death Coming Up the HillLife is a balancing act for Ashe whose parents have stayed together only because he was born.  Their conflicting opinions of the state of the world in 1968 have pulled them in opposite directions.  Ashe is definitely caught in the middle.

Each week Ashe's history teacher posts a number on the chalkboard.  It's a number all too familiar to Ashe - the U.S. casualty total from the fighting in Vietnam.  Ashe listens to news reports, watches his mother protest the war, and agrees that keeping up his grades so he can go to college and avoid the draft is the best plan.  In the midst of the war abroad, the race war is being fought here at home.  The events of 1968 include the Black Panther movement, the protests and assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.

Ashe is pulled in yet another direction when he meets Angela.  Her brother is fighting in Vietnam but hasn't been heard from in months.  Ashe sees the strain it puts on Angela and her family as they wait to hear if he will be reported dead, a captured POW, or MIA.  He'd love to introduce Angela to his parents, but since racism is yet another divisive issue between his parents, he must keep his relationship with Angela to himself.

Author Chris Crowe uses a unique and challenging format for his tale.  DEATH COMING UP THE HILL is told in narrative haiku.  The spare language is precise and powerful.  Readers should be sure to read the Historical and Author's Notes at the end to fully appreciate the complex challenge Crowe faced in creating this amazing work.

Previously posted:


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

ONE DEATH NINE STORIES edited by Marc Aronson & Charles R. Smith Jr.

One Death, Nine StoriesONE DEATH NINE STORIES is a unique novel comprised of short stories that weave together the story of Kevin Nicholas.  Reports of Kevin's death connect his acquaintances as they tell their individual stories and how they are tied to the deceased nineteen year old.

His sister, his best friend, a passing relationship with a fellow community college student, and an ex-girlfriend are just a few of the contributing storytellers that give readers a glimpse into the intertwined relationships of those who knew Kevin.  Ghosts from Kevin's own past reveal that his relationships were not the positive ones that most would hope for in the life a young man about to begin his adult life.  From the nine different stories, readers will learn about the influences humans have on one another, whether good or bad, and how those experiences combine to shape the players.

This unique collection is the product of two amazing minds, Marc Aronson and Charles R. Smith Jr.*  They tapped nine of their contemporaries to participate in this literary experiment.  Authors Chris Barton, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Marina Budhos, Ellen Hopkins, A.S. King, Torrey Maldonado, Charles R. Smith Jr., Will Weaver, and Rita Williams-Garcia all played a part in creating the cast of characters connected to Kevin Nicholas.  In the Afterword Aronson explains the unique process of creating the individual stories and the resulting complex interaction that brought them together in this interesting format. 

*Aronson and Smith have another multi-author collaboration piece titled PICK-UP GAME.  (I just ordered it and can't wait to read it!)

Previously posted:

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Swap by Megan Shull

If you like the concept of comedic body switches a la Freaky Friday, then it's time for you to read Megan Shull's novel The Swap.

Note that I said comedic "body switches" as opposed to horror-movie-style body swaps - those are invasive and terrifying, whereas The Swap is a smart and sensitive look at what it would be like for two middle school students of opposite genders to switch places.

When an encounter at school causes them to unwillingly swap bodies, thirteen-year-old Jack and twelve-year-old Ellie have to figure out a way to deal with their very different bodies, families, friends, and afterschool obligations until they can swap back. Before this unexpected event, the kids weren't friends. They go to the same school, so they vaguely knew each other - with Ellie being more aware of Jack than vice-versa - but they are a grade apart and don't have any classes or activities in common. By the time the book is over, though, there's no way they could call themselves strangers anymore.

This story is about more than temporarily being in someone else's body - it's about sharing someone else's life. The decisions the protagonists make and the actions they take while walking in each other's shoes (including Ellie's soccer cleats and Jack's hockey skates) affect them both. Seeing the world through new eyes changes how they see others and how they see themselves.

And back to the body sharing: where some sitcoms, books, or movies might play awkward moments in the locker room and in the bathroom as silly and/or gross jokes, these kids are truly uncomfortable at those times, and ultimately very respectful.

You could say that the two parental figures in the book are both devoted to their children, but they are definitely at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Ellie's mother, a divorced single parent and yoga instructor, is upbeat and sunny. Jack's stern father, a widower, is very strict with his four sons. Very strict. Think Captain Von Trapp. He oversees their daily fitness routine and year-round hockey training and makes them call him "sir." Ellie's mom wishes her daughter would be more open with her, while Jack's militaristic dad doesn't do heart-to-heart chats.

Jack has a whole bunch of buddies and gets along very well with his brothers. Meanwhile, only child Ellie feels like she doesn't have a friend in the world. Sassy, her best friend since kindergarten, has found a new best friend and now finds it fun to say mean things to Ellie (and Jack-as-Ellie) at school, on the soccer field, and at a memorable sleepover. Anyone who has had a friend turn on them, especially in middle school, will relate to that heartache. Friendship break-ups can hurt just as much as romantic ones. Not all friends make up; not all friends should. Kids and adults alike should keep this in mind: If someone is being mean to you and repeatedly putting you down, that person is not a true friend.

Both Ellie and Jack are healthy and athletic, which is really cool. It also comes in handy when they have attend each other's practices and tryouts. I also appreciated that the sports storylines didn't culminate in either character winning the big game or being chosen MVP; instead, it was about personal successes, about what the work taught them about themselves and how it pushed them outside of their comfort zones. There was also a neat sporty bit towards the end of the book that I wasn't expecting, and I liked a lot.

I've read a lot of books with dual narratives, and The Swap is a solid example of a story that both needs and benefits from two narrators who offer honest first-person thoughts. Without making them polar opposites, Shull has her characters speak and react differently, with some overlap - it's fun when they start realizing that they've picked up each other's lingo. The narrating duties flip back and forth in alternating chapters, and the story is easy to follow. The Swap considers the different ways we treat girls and boys, the different things we expect of our sons and daughters, and it's a great take on upper middle school life, a time that a lot of TV shows glaze over, jumping from little-kid-dom right into the teen age rather than dealing with the simultaneous horrors and happiness of those in-between wonder years.

For those of who you have yet to read the original novel Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers, do yourself a favor and pick up that book at the same time you pick up The Swap. Also grab Megan Shull's previous releases, including Amazing Grace.

Friday, December 26, 2014

I Am A Genius of Unsprakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President

(Originally posted on my personal blog.)

I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President
I first picked up I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President based on its deliciously verbose title and its endorsement from Jon Stewart (“If War and Peace had a baby with The Breakfast Club and then left the baby to be raised by wolves, this book would be the result. I loved it.”) When I discovered that its author was one of Stewart’s executive producers, and that it had come out in paperback, I could no longer resist its evil, evil charms.

I was quite wrong about it, though. I thought Genius was going to be more or less realistic fiction about an over-intelligent, misanthropic kid running for student body. As it turns out, I was a tiny bit wrong about that “realistic fiction” bit. The story’s protagonist is Oliver Watson, a thirteen-year-old kid who may be overweight but who is also the third wealthiest person in the world. An evil genius, he built his fortune from a single petty crime (stealing some money from his mother’s purse)  and carved out an empire of subterranean tunnels accessible from his bedroom or a secret locker passageway. He’s a blimp-piloting, minion-smacking, evil gadget-inventing mastermind who, as a seventh grader, holds the strings of any number of puppet corporations and countries.

Oliver is determined not to divulge his crazily successful alter ego, and so he lives his life as a very convincing idiot. He’s got everyone fooled into thinking his shoe size exceeds his IQ – classmates, teachers, even his mother and, importantly, his father. It turns out that Oliver is motivated, not by greed, respect, or a desire to change the world, but by a consuming dislike for what he sees as his self-interested and small-minded father.

He’s also motivated by puppy love, but that’s another story.

As Oliver’s best intentions fall apart around him, he ends up in an amusingly messed-up race for student body president, gets cut down a size or two, and maybe even grows up a little bit. But that’s not why you should read it; you should read it for the footnotes.

I’d say that Genius would be what happened if a Daily Show writer re-wrote Catcher in the Rye as a superhero comic book, but since that’s basically what this is, I guess I’ll just say that if you're ready for a good, smart laugh, find yourself a copy and buckle your seatbelt.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A few more book recommendations for procrastinating gift-givers

For kids who like tales about intelligent rodents and/or planes: Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlmann. A mouse whose compatriots have fled the country due to the introduction of a new mechanical mousetrap is unable to leave himself. Mistaking bats for flying mice, he is inspired to create a flying machine of his own so that he, too, can escape. Yeah, this is a picture book so it skews younger than the Guys Lit Wire intended audience, but the story is inventive and the artwork flat-out stunning. One of my favorites in a year of outstanding picture books, I've been pushing this on readers of all ages.

For superhero comic book fans: Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe by Tim Leong uses infographics (a few samples) to chart the world of comics.

For precocious or aspiring foodies: Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture by Dana Goodyear is a wild look at adventurous eaters and food movements, in a very New Yorker way (Goodyear writes for the magazine). Dan Barber's The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food is a more detailed look at agriculture, sustainability, nutrition, and food traditions. Hmm, I made that sound really boring, but the book is full of fascinating people and information. While the viewpoint is limited, it does provide a lot of, well, food for thought, especially for people who care about food.

For readers looking for a character they can really root for: I'm not the only person calling The Martian by Andy Weir a favorite book of this year. Partly because it's really smart, partly because it's really funny, partly because it's really suspenseful. (I mean, there must be a reason so many A-list names are involved in the film adaptation, right?) But I wonder if, in a year that has seen so much despair and senseless violence, The Martian's optimism and perhaps old-fashioned can-do attitude has provided a much needed antidote for readers. In any case, I highly recommend this both to science fiction fans and science fiction avoiders--it is that awesome a book.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Book Review: Escape from Sobibor by Richard Rashke

Escape from Sobi­bor by Richard Rashke is a non-fiction book which details the biggest escape from a Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp in Poland dur­ing World War II.  The book was first pub­lished in 1982 and won acclaim world wide.Escape from Sobibor by Richard Rashke is an excit­ing his­tory book, told as a novel. The book is divided into three sec­tions which intro­duce the peo­ple, tell about the escape from a top secret Nazi death camp, and the after war years. 

Mr. Rashke knows that the strength of any book, non-fiction or oth­er­wise, is the per­sonal sto­ries which make up the big pic­ture, and does a great job intro­duc­ing us to them. The peo­ple which the author chose to focus on were non-military Jews and a Russ­ian offi­cer, some were pulled out of the lines for the gas cham­bers due to spe­cial skills and some just by pure luck.

The author engages the reader from the start with per­sonal pre-war sto­ries. This is not just a his­tory book about the escape itself, but about peo­ple we care about and the heart wrench­ing deci­sion they had to make in order to survive.

The cru­elty and bar­bar­ity of the Nazis is also talked about, con­trasted by the strength of char­ac­ter of the pris­on­ers, as well as their men­tal anguish. Unfor­tu­nately, many of the Nazi crim­i­nals were never pun­ished for the their actions and brutality.

Once the pris­on­ers escaped, the author details their strug­gle to sur­vive in a hos­tile envi­ron­ment, either hid­ing from the Nazis, being take advan­tage of by the local pop­u­la­tion or the par­ti­sans. Some of the escapees hap­pened upon brave peo­ple who helped them, some were not so lucky.

Some of the sur­vivors were still liv­ing at the time the book was pub­lished, a few even took up arms and went back to fight the Nazis. This book has many themes about sur­vival, free­dom and more.

A must read for any his­tory buff or World War II enthu­si­ast. This mov­ing book might be grim, it is also inspir­ing and vividly recounts an event which most of the world has never known before it was published.

Originally published as  Book Review: Escape from Sobibor by Richard Rashke on

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hey Y'all, Comics!

In middle school, I used to take all my allowance and blow it on a fist full of comics. Every week or so, I'd bum a ride to the local comic book store and load up on anything that looked interesting, then pore over the fat stack of magazines all afternoon. It was a pretty good time to get into comics. Not only were the big superhero publishers putting out some pretty good stories, but there was a burst of weird, amazing, and fantastic independent and art comics appearing on the shelves those days. Over the years, as graphic novels have come along, I've drifted away from the thrills of "comic book day," but there's a bunch of really great comics titles out right now, so I figured I'd talk about some that really excite me!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Templar by Jordan Mechner. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham & Alex Puvilland

"Much nonsense has been written about the Knights Templar over the years," writes Jordan Mechner, creator of the awesome graphic novel, "Templar." He's right, there has been a lot of nonsense written about them. One of my favourites is that they stole un-published works of Shakespeare and hid them on Oak Island, Nova Scotia. Then there's the myth that they were all arrested on a Friday the 13th, forever marking it as an unlucky day, a day that would spawn countless terrible campfire stories and movies. I'm looking at you, Jason Takes Manhattan.

There's no nonsense in Mechner's Templar. He uses actual speeches from the Templar's leaders, members and detractors. Mechner re-creates 14th century Paris as meticulously as he can. We see both sides of the human experience, the gold-lined palaces, the poor wretches living in their own filth and the people who are just trying their best to survive.
This is probably what I loved the most from this book, Mechner doesn't gloss over anything, but he doesn't exaggerate either. Don't get me wrong, the book gets pretty dark at times, especially when depicting the Siege of Acre and the resulting massacre of the prisoners.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

Sometimes when an incident occurs eyewitnesses have a different take on what exactly occurred. What they see is often colored by their experiences and prejudices. That is the case in Kekla Magoon's fantastic book for teens called How It Went Down which deals with the fall out from the killing of an unarmed black teenager called Tariq by a man named Jack Franklin. As (bad) luck would have it Franklin just happens to be white.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Let's Get Lost

Let's Get Lost
LET'S GET LOST is the debut contemporary coming-of-age novel by Adi Alsaid, and he really gets it right the first time. This is a strong story that I highly recommend to anyone wanting a good contemporary story about love, friendship, family, and adventure. LET'S GET LOST is told in 5 parts, each one from a different character's point of view. I absolutely loved having multiple points of view in a single story - this is something that doesn't happen enough in YA fiction.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Off the Radar Gift Ideas

Some guys - bless 'em - know exactly what they want and can articulate it when it comes to books. I was not one of those guys, and that inability to express my general interests ended up in some, er, interesting book selections when I was a teen. I suppose that year I got a book on identifying rocks and gems came from the haphazard collection of stones I had picked up while camping, but that was an earnest mistake; to this day I have no idea what to make of my getting Jonathan Livingston Seagull when I was 13.

So what follows are a short collection of books that I have found nifty recently that, if not perfect gift selections for some guy you know, may at least provide potential book ideas for that mumbly, mopey dude over there hoping no one asks him what he's into.

Lonely Planet’s Instant Expert:

A Visual Guide to the Skills You’ve Always Wanted
By Nigel Holmes
Lonely Planet 2014

I can’t speak to the idea that I have ever wanted to be an expert in half of the skills listed inside this book, but the teen know-it-all inside me loves this visual compendium of high-end trivia and how-to guides. Just a random page test can yield startling results: how cheese chemically can be as addictive as opiates; what the little pictographs on clothing tags mean in terms of how to wash items (especially when the print is so tiny you can’t read it); things you need to know to be a dog walker… or a gondolier; even how to be a blogger! It’s a rather tongue-in-cheek approach to becoming a jack of all trades but makes an informative jumping off point for conversations about possible careers, or just a jumping off point for conversations in general!

please click for full effect!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

WHY DO I CHASE THEE from Elizabeth Basset Browning & Other Canine Masters

Ever wonder why dogs don't write more poetry? Well, if you have (or if you have now that I've framed that question), this book is for you. Jessica Swaim has come up with a bookful of parody poems, in which celebrated dog poets explain lots of things . . . why they chase their tails, how fish compares to meat ("thou art more flaccid and more apt to spoil"), the horror of being neutered, and more.

Each of the sixteen canine poets is introduced with a "bio" page that looks something like this one, for "Rover Frost", with terrific artwork done by Chet Phillips:

It's followed by two parody poems: a short version of "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" entitled "Sizing Up Shoes on a Soulful Evening", and a parody of Frost's "Rose" entitled "Nose". Here's that poem:

by Jessica Swaim, writing as Rover Frost

A nose is a nose,
And was always a nose.
And a dog licks his nose
When the nose overflows,
And the slicker it grows,
'Til it glistens and glows.
You can bet your sweet toes,
Nothing's nice as a nose,
Unless it's a tongue,
Or a tail, I suppose.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly

We are told not to judge books by their covers. We should also not judge books by their titles: Dirt Bikes, Drones, And Other Ways To Fly is neither Twitter- nor acronym-friendly (DBDAOWTF?). Based on the title, I didn’t expect a moving study of how we respond to grief. Based on the title, I didn’t expect a thoughtful exploration of the morality of military drone use and how our nation’s military engagements affect small-town America. And, based on the title, I didn’t expect the novel to explicitly incorporate the Emersonian concept of the Over-Soul either. But Conrad Wesselhoeft addresses all these and more in his young adult novel.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Clay's Way, by Blair Mastbaum

A blurb on the back of Clay's Way calls it "a gay Catcher in the Rye," and that was almost enough to make me not read the book. Mind you, I love both those things - Catcher in the Rye, and... gayness... but I've seen so many weak books flogged as "the next Catcher in the Rye" that it's become a code word for "book that tries too hard to do something that's already been done."

Fortunately, I got over myself. And read Clay's Way. And it was amazing. And in the end, I thought to myself, yeah, wow, it does kind of hit the same emotional sweet spot as Catcher in the Rye. Not because it's imitative, or even because it treads similar ground, but because it has the same dark cynical strong compelling gorgeous voice that the best young adult fiction has (and what is Catcher in the Rye but a great YA novel?).

Zombies & Calculus by Colin Adams

I saw Zombies & Calculus by Colin Adams in the Princeton University Press catalog and it caught my eye (for obvious reasons). I have no idea how it reads but the premise is so unique that I had to share it. If you're teaching Calculus, it seems like this might be worth taking a look at and then sharing with your students.

Adams is the humor columnist for the Mathematical Intelligencer and a professor of mathematics at Williams College.  

From the catalog copy:

Zombies & Calculus is the account of Craig Williams, a math professor at a small liberal arts college in New England, who, in the middle of a calculus class, finds himself suddenly confronted by a late-arriving student whose hunger is not for knowledge. As the zombie virus spreads and civilization crumbles, Williams uses calculus to help his small band of survivors defeat the hordes of the undead. Along the way, readers learn how to avoid being eaten by taking advantage of the fact that zombies always point their tangent vector toward their target, and how to use exponential growth to determine the rate at which the virus is spreading. Williams also covers topics such as logistic growth, gravitational acceleration, predator-prey models, pursuit problems, the physics of combat, and more. With the aid of his story, you too can survive the zombie onslaught.

I had a brutal time in calculus and anything I could have done to make sense of it all would have been welcome. Zombies? Might as well!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

New Old School Sci-Fi

Perhaps it's not fair to call Sergei Lukyanenko's The Genome (released today) "old school" sci-fi. But the book feels like it comes from another era. Not that that's a bad thing. Not at all.

Alex Romanov is a starship master-pilot with an animated tattoo on his shoulder that acts out his current emotional state. He's just been released from a hospital on a distant alien world called Quicksilver Pit. He's low on cash and without a job when he meets Kim, a teenage girl who is getting harassed by some unsavory characters on public transportation. Alex offers to help her out, but she declines and deals with the problem directly by smashing the head of one of her tormentors through the bus's window.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Dig deep guys—it's time for the Book Fair for Ballou High School!

UPDATED 11/28/2014: Powells Books is running a 20% + free shipping sale through December 1st. We have opened up the Ballou Wish List again so folks might take advantage of this amazing deal and send a book (or 2!) to DC. Just type in "SWEETDEAL" when checking out (the last step, when you type in your credit card info - you will see a place to enter a coupon or gift card code). Your final total will then reflect 20% off all of your purchases (including sale prices) and free shipping.

You can use the code as many times as you want this weekend, so buy some books for Ballou & everyone else on your list (and even you!)

Please see all details for ordering below or jump right to the list!



As our regular readers know, Guys Lit Wire annually teams up with Ballou Senior High School librarian Melissa Jackson to host a book fair for this Washington DC high school. Ballou has some big changes on the horizon—a brand new school will be opening in January. This is long overdue (the original school was built in the 1950s) and we are very excited for the Ballou students, teachers and staff. But...even though we were hoping that with the new school and new library/media center there would be an increased budget for books, (and that's what we thought was happening a few months ago), it turns out that is simply not the case.

So, just like in years past, we all need to work together to help these students get the books they want to read. It's important that we buy from the wish list because we want these teens to be excited about the titles. Here's some hard truths about Ballou from the Washington Post:  

Students tend to arrive at Ballou years behind grade level; by 10th grade, about one in five are proficient in reading and math, according to city tests. Fewer than half of students graduate on time and more than 60 percent are considered chronically truant.

Like far too many kids in America, the students at Ballou have some very real struggles. For them a library full of books is not just a treat and a pleasure but a necessity. It's a refuge in the best sense of the word, and we feel that everything we can do to make it a more empowering place is time & money well spent.

We've got all kinds of great books for Ballou on the Powells Books wish list and we do hope you will send a title or two in their direction or, if you can't, please help us spread the word via twitter, facebook and more about the book fair. All the details are behind the cut and if you have any questions, let us know!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson

The remaining members of a royal family are whisked away from their "somewhere" Middle Eastern home by the CIA and relocated to the United States after the King/Dictator/Tyrant/Father/Husband/Brother/Uncle is assassinated. As we read this story and follow Laila's attempts to fit in to her new Western surroundings we find out some of the details of what life was like under her Father's rule back home, and the changes that have taken place since her Uncle has taken over - as Laila finds them out.
I love the way that Carleson tells this story through Laila's eyes. Innocent and unknowing of the atrocities associated with her Father's regime, she seeks out information and learns things about her country and family that are not easy to digest.
In the end, we are left asking the question "How much like are parents are we destined to think and act?"
An intriguing story of family, friendship, war and those that wage it in relation to those around them.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The World of the End by Ofir Touché Gafla

The World of the End by Ofir Touché Gafla is a fan­tasy book trans­lated from Hebrew. This is the author’s first book (עולם הסוף) and he won sev­eral awards.

Ben Mendelssohn wants to be reunited with his belated wife, he will do any­thing to be with her again and on his birth­day he puts a bul­let in his head to accom­plish the task. When Ben enters the Other World he dis­cov­ers that find­ing a per­son among the mil­lions who occupy the realm is not an easy task.

Search­ing huge cities where every per­son that ever died lived, and gar­dens with fam­ily trees which are taken care of by those that were never born is a huge task for the recently deceased Ben, so he hires a pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor to help him out. While events in the real world and Other World unfold and are some­how related, Ben dis­cov­ers much about him­self, his wife and the human condition.

The World of the End by Ofir Touché Gafla is a cre­ative and well writ­ten book, which is touch­ing, thought­ful and inter­est­ing. The world, or actu­ally the after world, which the author cre­ates is imag­i­na­tive and thought provoking.

This strange book, with a large cast, alter­nates between a strange after­life world and mod­ern Israel (which, we find, is a place where those in the after­life get sent to for pun­ish­ment). The char­ac­ters in the novel have very strange and unique char­ac­ter flaws which make them inter­est­ing and intrigu­ing as well as mov­ing the sto­ries along.

While tragedies hap­pen all around, this is a strangely roman­tic book with a fan­tas­tic end­ing. The pro­tag­o­nist of the book is an “epi­l­o­gist”, a new word for me which means that he writes end­ings, appro­pri­ately enough.

While The World of the End might be cat­e­go­rized under the fan­tasy genre, it does not accu­rately describe the book. Cer­tainly not for every­one, I enjoyed this book very much espe­cially due to the com­plex and flawed char­ac­ters. The trans­la­tion to Eng­lish is fan­tas­tic and keeps all the dif­fi­cult puns and humor in the original.

Originally posted on

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Dead Body Road by Justin Jordan, Matt Scalera and Moreno Disinio

This is a story of revenge, pure and simple. Gage's wife has been murdered, and the people that have murdered her are going to die, and they are going to die hard.

An ex-cop, Gage has a warehouse full of demons that are slowly revealed over six tightly packed issues.

Along his vengeful journey Gage teams up with a girl and his ex-partner. To say that they have issues is like saying that Vatican City has "religious leanings."

The twist is that we don't know who killed Gage's wife until the very end, which is the way it should be - but man, while we wait to find out, the bodies pile up faster than empty Coors Lights at the Indy 500.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bike Thief by Rita Feutl

Bike Thief If there is anything to learn from Bike Thief it is that you must be careful of the friends you keep and that one bad decision can lead to a snowball effect and serious trouble. Nick and his sister Katie  live in foster care and because of past transgressions they are determined to be n their best behavior for fear that they will be split up, something they don't want to see happen at all. When Katie breaks a tv set in the house, afraid of what will happen when his foster parents find out Nick talks to his friend who tells him that he knows how to make easy money. Before long Nick finds himself deeper and deeper in debt and is forced to pull more jobs together with a group of "runts" (younger kids) who don't quite understand what they are getting into.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Big THANK YOU for all the love & books sent to Ballou Sr High School!

We here at Guys Lit Wire want to thank everyone who bought a book for Ballou off their wish list at Powells Books. By last count 75 books made their way to Washington DC to be enjoyed by the students at this most deserving school library.

Things got a bit quiet around here about the book fair in recent days as your truly was on vacation (in very sunny Florida!!), but we are delighted that folks kept buying away and so many great books—especially hardcovers—were purchased.

We are going to leave the list open through the next month, just in case any of you folks might want to send an extra gift during the holiday season. Melissa Jackson, Ballou's librarian, will be delighted to shelve any of the wish list titles that come her way and I know that so many of her students will love reading these books (which were, of course, approved by the library crew!)

You guys rock, as always. You really make a huge difference with your support of this book fair and we couldn't do it without each and every one of you buying and helping us spread the word.


Friday, November 14, 2014

NIL by Lynne Matson

Nil (Nil, #1)
NIL is a story of survival and self-discovery. When Charley is mysteriously transported to the unmapped island of Nil she must learn the rules and survive a year of deadly animals, gate-hunting, and new romance. Nil is a beautiful island paradise, haunted by the ghosts of those who have gone before and the howls of whatever dangerous beasts have been dropped in by gates. Charley is taken into Nil City by Thad, the current Leader, and initiated into the tribe of teenagers Searching for their personal gates out of there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Art of Space

Growing up, most of my impressions of what space looked like came from the art on the cover of sci-fi paperbacks. This was the work of illustrators, individuals whose job it was to interpret the concepts presented inside. Movies tried to do the same but very few could capture the imagination the way one good interplanetary landscape could; the mystery of multiple suns and moons, space stations the size of continents, and colonies of people living in universes that seemed to defy gravity. 

This is what The Art of Space is all about.

Let's take a look, shall we? This is from Ron Miller himself:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Shining by Stephen King

Just the other day I got around to reading Rolling Stone's interview with Stephen King. Two things jumped out at me that seemed worth discussing here on Guys Lit Wire. First, King states that he sees no separation between YA books and books for adults, and that he considers all of his work suitable for teen readers. In his early days as an author, he had more teen readers, and his response to questions about whether he has fewer now struck me.

I'm seen as somebody who writes for adults because I'm an older man myself. Some of them find me, and a lot of them don't. But I came along at a fortunate time, in that I was a paperback success before I was a hardcover success. That's because paperbacks were cheap, so a lot of readers that I had were younger people.
And another thing that I found vastly entertaining was his discussion of the movie version of The Shining, which has become a bit of a cult classic. King isn't a fan of the film version, and here's what he said about Stanley Kubrick's film of The Shining, and the depiction of the main character, Jack Torrance, and his wife:

The book is hot, and the movie is cold; the book ends in fire, and the movie in ice. In the book, there's an actual arc where you see this guy, Jack Torrance, trying to be good, and little by little he moves over to this place where he's crazy. And as far as I was concerned, when I saw the movie, Jack was crazy from the first scene. I had to keep my mouth shut at the time. It was a screening, and Nicholson was there. But I'm thinking to myself the minute he's on the screen, "Oh, I know this guy. I've seen him in five motorcycle movies, where Jack Nicholson played the same part." And it's so misogynistic. I mean, Wendy Torrance is just presented as this sort of screaming dishrag. But that's just me, that's the way I am.

All this together is why I'm here today to talk about the book, The Shining.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Blood of My Blood by Barry Lyga

One of the more popular electives at my high school is Sociology, and a great deal of that popularity stems from one unit in particular: Serial Killers. But these teens are not alone in their fascination with the subject. From John Wayne Gacy to Jeffrey Dahmer, the lurid crimes and deviant minds of serial killers fascinate our society as a whole, as we seek to understand whether such serial killers are born evil or whether their evil was created by their upbringing. Inherent evil is scary enough, but the thought that American society somehow creates such evil leads us to wonder what might be wrong with all of us.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Lies in the Dust: A Tale of Remorse from the Salem Witch Trials

One of the standard stories of American history taught in every single elementary school since time began is the Salem Witch Trials. Right up there with the American Revolution and arrival of the Pilgrims, the trials are a quintessential part of our national identity.

Their story is also the first mean girls story ever written.

As we all know, in 1692 and 1693 a small group of girls pointed the finger at several of the residents of Salem, Massachusetts and declared them witches. A fever soon gripped the community whereby the girls would claim they were being made ill or manipulated by someone, the person would claim innocence and be subjected to all manner of impossible physical tests to prove that innocence and then the accused was executed and everybody moved on to the next victim.

It all stopped when the crazy just got out of hand and way too many people were being accused (including folks of increasingly powerful positions), but by then twenty people were put to death, four others died in prison and many other lives were ruined. And then a couple of years later, the voices of reason felt confident enough to come forward and by 1700 the first of many petitions were being filed demanding that the convictions be reversed.

The big question though, is what happened to the accusers and that is where Jakob Crain and Tim Decker's graphic novel, Lies in the Dust, offers some answers.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

New Space Opera, but Don't Throw Out the Old

Peter F. Hamilton first explored the Void, an area at the center of the galaxy that defies typical laws of both physics and metaphysics, in his Dreaming Void trilogy. Hamilton's characters return to the Void in his new work, The Abyss Beyond Dreams, bringing with them a fresh perspective and a different range of ideas.

Nigel Sheldon, one of the founders of the technologically advanced human Commonwealth, is asked by the even more technologically advanced alien species, the Raiel, to infiltrate the Void to keep it from threatening the entire galaxy.

As far as anyone knows, nothing that enters the Void can leave it, though Nigel, equipped with massive enhancements to his human body and a few extra copies of psyche that he can load into computers or androids or clones of himself, hopes to find out otherwise.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

WELCOME TO DARK HOUSE by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Welcome to the Dark HouseNightmare Elf's e-Newsletter reads "NIGHTMARES BE GONE CONTEST."  According to the rules, if you write about your worst nightmare (one thousand words or less), you just might win a chance to meet a famous movie director and get a sneak peek at his latest horror film. 

That's the contest eighteen year old Ivy Jensen entered.  She wants to win the awesome prize, not to meet the famous director, but because of the promise associated with the contest - the promise that your terrible nightmare would disappear.  Ivy hasn't even seen a Justin Blake movie, but she has a nightmare that plagues her sleep and even haunts her every waking moment.  When she learns about the contest, she enters hoping that winning will free her from the horror she experienced back when she was twelve.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Peak by Roland Smith

As far as names go, you have to admit that Peak is an unusual one. On the bright side, he knows his name could be worse. His mountain climbing-obsessed parents could have named him Crampon or something. But Peak Marcello inherited his parents’ obsession, so maybe it’s the perfect name for him, after all.

The only problem with this is that Peak lives in New York City, and there aren’t a lot of mountains to climb there. Which is why Peak gets his kicks climbing skyscrapers. From the outside. At the age of 14, Peak has already successfully scaled five skyscrapers. He’s in the middle of climbing his sixth when things go unexpectedly wrong: it’s so cold outside that Peak’s face gets stuck to the outside of the building, witnesses spot him, and Peak is arrested.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

SURROUNDED BY SHARKS by Michael Northrop

Surrounded By SharksDavey and his family just arrived on the tiny island off Florida's Key West.  After spending their first night in the hotel, Davey wakes up early and decides to explore the island.  He grabs his book and heads off to find a quiet place to read. 
After traipsing through the hotel lobby and checking out the dock, Davey finds a tiny, deserted beach that looks interesting.  He notices the faded No Swimming sign, but he puts down his book, slips off his glasses, and wades into the warm ocean water.  The gentle waves gradually lure him  away from the shore until the water is up to his chest.  Before he realizes it, he is being pulled away from the beach by the current.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Creativity and Austin Kleon and YOU

If you are an artist of any kind - a writer, a poet, a singer, a painter, a filmmaker, anything creative - and Austin Kleon is not already on your radar, please tune in:

In his book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, Kleon encourages people to be confident when approaching their projects, even when that voice in the back of your head is telling you, "But someone's already done something like this. Someone's already written a story about this, or make a similar sculpture, or created a collage like this..." Because guess what? Even if that is true, even if there is something similar out there, your creation won't be the same as what came before, because it's coming from you, and your viewpoint and abilities will make it unique. So don't be scared to tackle something that you think has "already been done" - because it hasn't, if you haven't done it yet. 

At the same time, remember to give credit when credit is due. That's mentioned in all of his books: if you're doing something directly based on someone else's work, give that person credit. If you choreographed a dance largely influenced by the life of Martha Graham or inspired by the paintings of Degas, say that. If your research was heavily based on someone or something, cite it. Be grateful for those who paved the way, acknowledge those who helped you, respect others and you'll be respected.

Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered, Kleon's latest book, offers ideas and ways to share your work with the world. As with Steal Like an Artist, each chapter is motivational, brief, and to-the-point. There are those who feel the need to "network" and those who absolutely hate networking, and any number of folks in-between; Show Your Work focuses talks about using the network to help other people find your work, to share what you've done without feeling like you are self-promoting or self-involved.
Kleon's Newspaper Blackout is a collection of poetry he made by taking a permanent marker to newspaper articles and turning them into something new. My favorite piece in his collection is Underdog, as seen here; I am also fond of Enigma, created by Erica Westcott.

You might be wondering why I'm posting this at a blog targeted to teen readers. It's simple: creativity exists in everyone, in people of all ages. Some creative people are very outgoing and outspoken (hello, that's me!) but others aren't as confident in their abilities, especially when they are younger and/or are trying an artistic pursuit for the first time. Some people need a little nudge to write down the story that's been in the back of their mind for years, just as others need a little nudge to try out for the sports team or the school play.

So what are you waiting for? If you've always wanted to play the tuba, go to the local music store and get a recommendation for a good music teacher in your area. Or, to be more specific to the aforementioned books and methods, if you want to be a poet or a songwriter or a hand-lettering artist or a greeting card designer and don't know where to start, look at the things YOU like, and create something inspired by your favorite poems and songs and illustrations. Start with what moves you, and go from there. In time, you'll find your voice, and make something wholly original that will, in turn, inspire someone else. Creativity is a cycle. Pay it forward!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sale books still left on the Ballou Sr HS library book fair wish list

It's pretty hard to let this book fair end with these amazing sale priced books still on the list. If you've been thinking about buying but weren't sure which title to select, how about giving one of these a look?

Amity by Micol Ostow (HC)  $13.29
Applegeeks 1: Freshman Year by Ananth Panagariya and Mohammad F. Haque (PB)  $2.50 (!!!)
A Beautiful Life by Irfan Master (HC)  $7.00
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (HC)  $12.59
Brewster by Mark Slouka (HC)  $10.98
Collage Lab by Bee Shay (PB)  $9.98
Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers (HC)  $8.50
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowells (HC) $10.98
Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake (HC) $7.98
Goddess War #1 by Kendare Blake (HC) $7.98
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (HC) $9.98
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (PB) $10.50
Invincible Microbe by Jim Murphy (HC) $8.98
Lexicon by Max Barry (HC) $10.98
Life (HC) $17.98 (This $20+ off the cover price for this coffee table book!)
The Magician King by Lev Grossman (HC) $10.98
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn West (HC) $10.98
Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool (HC) $7.98
Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher (HC) $7.98
Peanut by Ayun Halliday (HC) $7.98
Rhymes with Witches by Lauren Myracle (HC) $1.75 (!!!)
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson (HC) $7.98
September Girls by Bennett Madison (HC) $10.00
Sophie: The Incredible True Story of a Castaway Dog by Emma Pearse (PB) $7.98
This Wicked Game by Michelle Zink (HC) $7.98
Tune by Derek Kirk Kim (PB) $7.98
Underwater Dogs by Seth Casteel (HC) $10.98
The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman (HC) $12.59

All details on the book fair for Ballou SR High School, including how to order a book, can be found on this earlier post.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mummies: The Newest, Coolest & Creepiest from Around the World

I picked up Shelley Tanaka's Mummies: The Newest, Coolest & Creepiest from Around the World because it was featured on a "spooky book" shelf and because it looked like a fun, quick read. I wasn't expecting to get completely wrapped up (ha ha) in it, much less to be murmuring "Wow!" every time I turned a page.

On the fine art (& frustration) of crafting a diverse book list for teenagers

Over the past few years, as I've worked on the wish list for the annual Ballou High School library book fair, I've spent a lot of time thinking about diversity in teen books. In some ways, the process has been like grieving; first there was denial, ("where are all the mysteries and romance and thrillers with African American protagonists?"), then anger, ("I can not believe how hard it is to find books for teenagers with African American kids on the covers!!"), then bargaining, ("what do I have to do to find these dang books?!"), then depression, ("this so unfair and I can't stand it"), and then acceptance ("this is the world we're living in and I just have to work with it").

Talk about a learning experience.

The book list does have a lot of diverse books on it because I spend all year watching for every single title that comes up in Booklist or the catalogs or on twitter or the blogs I follow that includes mention of "strong diverse characters". It never ends, finding these books. I can never stop looking for them or watching for them.

Right now I have about a dozen books in a list that are from the spring 2015 catalogs that won't go on the wish list until next year. I also pull from the ALA Quick Picks list and from the Printz and other awards lists and Ballou's super librarian, Melissa Jackson, always has some books they are looking for that go on the list but mostly, I am on the hunt all the time. I look for adult crossover titles, especially biographies, that will be of interest to high school students at Ballou and any history or science titles that might include have particular interest to African American teens.

There are also general nonfiction titles like cookbooks and wildlife and science (plastic in the ocean! extinction! genealogy! nail art) but give me a novel about a couple of African American teenagers who solve crime or fall in love or, yes, battle vampires, and I AM ALL OVER IT.

Because I want the students at Ballou to read the same kind of fun books I read as a teenager. I want them to see themselves in the books they read; I want them to find themselves in the books they read. I want them to see lives that could be theirs or look like theirs. I don't want them to feel like they are in the outside looking in when they are reading and I think that happens when all the characters are blonde haired and blue-eyed and rich and you are none of those things.

So I look all year long and I add to the list all year long and I hope for the best all year long. Certainly some of the books on the list have mostly (and maybe all) Caucasian characters because they are still good, fun, popular books that I know all teen readers want and will enjoy. But they can't be all the books on the list; they can't be everything. More importantly, they should never be everything.

Take a look at the wish list for Ballou and tell us what you think. If you know of some books that should be on the list next time, let us know. And yeah, if you want to help out a worthy school then please buy a book or two and send them along to Washington DC, where I promise they will be very much appreciated.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Department 19 by Will Hill

I know that this book has been discussed in the past here on this blog, but I just couldn't pass it up!

Dracula, Van Helsing, and Frankenstein - plus some really cool high-tech and futuristic firepower to boot! I plowed through this book in no time as more and more of Jamie Carpenter's story and his family history were revealed. Hill jumped in time filling in the history of the Carpenter family, the origins of Department 19, Frankenstein and Jamie's father, Dracula and the first vampires which all provided the backdrop to the current story of Jamie and his attempt to save his mother from one of the oldest vampires in the world.

Pages filled with non-stop action, thrills, gore and horror!

A must read for any action/horror fan. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth

I rarely see juvenile fiction books with young African-American males on the cover so needless to say I was intrigued by this title. The main character Jarrett is a rising seventh grader from Newark, New Jersey who lives with his mom, a Guyanese immigrant. His mom is a foster mom who works with social services to take n kids for varying lengths of time. This is how Kevon and his little sister Treasure come into their lives. Kevon's father went missing and so the two are placed with Jarrett's family for the time being.

Celebrating Ballou High School's library dynamo

We are often asked why we have chosen to stay with Ballou Senior High School for our annual book fair. Prior to Ballou, Guys Lit Wire worked with a group serving juvenile offenders in Los Angeles and two schools on reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. While we certainly were happy to help those folks and felt that our book fairs did a lot of good and were appreciated, when we first teamed up with Ballou we quickly realized we had found a special situation.

Melissa Jackson, the Library Media Specialist, loves her job and her enthusiasm is quite infectious. A look at the library's facebook page shows the many events she plans there from poetry slams to club meetings to author readings and tons of visiting speakers. Melissa works tirelessly to get students excited about reading and has been key to the past success of the book fairs. She cares so much about the kids at Ballou and has shown us just how much one dedicated librarian can accomplish for a whole school. Melissa is a powerhouse whose dedication can not be denied. We are thus delighted to work with her, and help her, through the current book fair.

If you want to know how the world can be changed, then Melissa is a shining example of what a force for good looks like. Guys Lit Wire organizes these book fairs each year through her direct coordination and support; Melissa is the one who gets all these books you purchase off the list into the hands of teenagers eager to read them. Please know how much you making her job easier with every title you send to Washington DC and every effort you make to spread the word.

The Book Fair for Ballou Sr High School continues. Please check out the details and shop the Powells wish list. [Post pic of Melissa Jackson with the Ballou mascot, the "Golden Knight".}

Friday, October 17, 2014

Caged Warrior

Caged Warrior

CAGED WARRIOR takes the reader to places they had no idea they could even go between the pages of a book. The poorest parts of Detroit, on of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the U.S., is where McCutcheon "M.D." Daniels calls home.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

League of Seven by Alan Gratz

League of Seven, one of the most fun books I've read recently, is chock full of all kinds of cool stuff that I get excited about: Lovecraftian monsters, steampunk, alternate history, mythology, secret societies, ninja robots, and giant city-crushing beasts. Honestly, this book is chock-full of the good stuff! And that's no coincidence-- when Alan Gratz talks about the book, he flat out admits it. "When I set out to write this book, I thought about all the things I thought were cool: monsters, robots, ninjas. And I decided I would just stick them all in one book and have as much fun writing as much awesome stuff as possible."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Troop by Nick Cutter

The Boy Scout motto is "Be Prepared," but trust me, a team of Samurai-Ninja-Swat Team-Green Berets couldn't be prepared for the horror that is unleashed in Nick Cutter's pedal-to-the-metal shock fest that is The Troop. 

The story takes place on Prince Edward Island, an idyllic province on the east coast of Canada. I've been to Prince Edward Island, I grew up on the province next to it. It's a nice place and I have to say that I'm very glad I didn't read The Troop while I was living anywhere near there because I'd probably never go outside again. 

The Troop hits the ground running and simply doesn't stop. On the first page we are introduced to a news story about an emaciated man who wanders into a diner and begs to be given as much food as possible. He then goes on to eat everything they've got on the menu. When he is finished he walks outside without paying, steals a truck and disappears into the night. The papers dub him "The Hungry Man," but nobody seems to know who he is or where he came from. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Success Through Stillness by Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons? you ask. The moving and shaking founder of Def Jam Records, wrote a book called Success Through Stillness?

Yes. Yes, he did. And get this: it's about meditation, and about how devoting twenty minutes to meditation twice a day, each day, will make you more successful at anything you turn your mind to.

Simmons tells stories of how he found his way to meditation, as well as how it benefits other major players he knows, from basketball greats to Oprah and Jay Z. He also talks about how much he enjoys yoga, although that's not a prerequisite to meditating.

The book begins by declaring that meditation is the path to true happiness.

Why should you meditate?
The answer is very simple: to be happy.
Which is the only reason you're here.
This may sound like a very simple take on the meaning of life,
but I believe it with every fiber in my body.
Soon after discussing his own start meditating, Simmons launches into five different chapters designed to shoot holes in any excuses you might have not to do it, including the most common ones like "I Don't Have Time" and "I'm No Good at It", along with some more complicated, in some cases theological, reasons. From there, he moves onto explaining the positive physical reasons you should meditate, which includes improving your brain's health and potential, followed by the very real benefits people find in their lives once they start meditating.

In Real Life, review and interview with Cory Doctorow

When Anda, a teenage gamer, gets invited to play Coursegold, a massively-multiplayer online role playing game she discovers a place where she can be many things she isn't in real life: a hero, a fighter, a leader, a part of a unified team. Along the way she learns about gold farmers who mine valuable objects within the game to later be sold to players. At first this seems unfair to Anda who recognizes that it gives players with money a chance to buy themselves into a game where others are trying to earn their place, which makes killing off these characters easy. Then she learns the darker truth behind these gold farmers.

Raymond, a gold farmer Anda befriends, turns out to be a teen in China who is hired as a miner. The money he earns for his employer is needed but the exhaustion from long hours is making him sick. Without a union or health care Anda tried to persuade him to get other gamers to collectively bargain but then Raymond's avatar disappears from the game, and Anda's parents cut her off from gaming and she worries about what has happened.

Monday, October 13, 2014

When I Was The Greatest by Jason Reynolds

For many of my predominantly white and predominantly rural students in Iowa, the Brooklyn of Jason Reynold’s When I Was The Greatest might as well be a different planet. And sadly, more of my students have probably read books set on other planets than have read books set in neighborhoods like the Bed-Stuy of narrator Ali and his family.

All kinds of kids need all kinds of stories. Stories where they can see themselves, yes, but also stories where they can see our country and our world in all its diversity while understanding the common humanity that binds us. We need books that are both mirrors and windows. This summer, the “We Need Diverse Books” campaign exploded on social media in response to the growing awareness of the LACK of diversity in the publishing world in general and the children and young adult markets in particular. One of the books I learned about through this campaign is When I Was The Greatest, and I urge all who serve teens, whether in the classroom or in a library, to add this book to your collection. 

Teenage Ali and his sister Jazz live in Brooklyn with their mother Doris. Though their father John does not live with the family, and has not for some time, he still has a role to play in their lives, a role that grows as the story progresses. Ali long ago made friends with the neighborhood's new kid, dubbed “Noodles” by little sister Jazz, who is also responsible for creating the nickname “Ali” for her brother Allen. Noodles has his own sibling, a brother nicknamed “Needles” by Jazz for the knitting he does. Yes, knitting. Needles has Tourette’s syndrome, and Doris taught him to knit as a way to ease the physical tics that accompany it.

Noodles reads and draws comics, showing a softer side that few other than Ali witness. To most, especially Needles, Noodles flashes a temper, a tongue, and the ‘tough” face he feels his neighborhood demands. Ali remains loyal to his long-time friend, despite his doubts about Noodles’ treatment of his brother and Noodles’ actions toward others. This loyalty faces its ultimate test when Needles is put in physical danger.

When I Was The Greatest, nominated for this year’s Cybils Award in the Young Adult Fiction category, exudes a sense of place, the rhythms of daily life in Bed-Stuy, the sounds of the city. The title is a reference to Muhammad Ali, fitting as young Ali in the book is learning to box and both Alis refuse to let the rest of the world box them into any stereotype of African-American existence.

But like all good stories, Reynold’s novel also resonates in broader themes: The importance of family, what we sacrifice for friends, and how we decide who we want to be. These themes are as real in rural Iowa as they are in Brooklyn, even for some of my students who equate darker skin and “strange” names with being foreign. Not “foreign” as in unknown, but “foreign” as in not American. We need diverse books because students need to know that their America is not all of America (and America is not all of the world), and you need to read When I Was The Greatest because it, too, sings America, and sings it ever so well.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The annual Book Fair for Ballou returns on Monday!

Just wanted to give everyone a heads-up that we will be again hosting a book fair starting Monday, October 13th for Ballou Sr. High School in Washington DC. Regular readers know already that is an annual thing for us (the photo above is from spring 2013 when the books arrived for that book fair), although it is a little late this year. Ballou is moving into a new school in January after 50+ years in their current building however, so we wanted to give them a few more boxes to take along to the new digs. (So exciting!!!)

Unfortunately, as wonderful as the new library & media center is, as it turns out, there will be no increase in the budget for books. So now there is all this gorgeous space but far too few titles to fill it up with.

Along with Melissa Jackson, the tireless Ballou librarian, and her faithful book clubbers, we have built a list at Powells Books that will be open for business on Monday. I'll have all the ordering information posted here, so you can select a title or two (or more!) and send them on their way direct to Ballou. If you can't buy books, we would very much appreciate any efforts you make to help spread the word on what we're doing.

There are fewer things we can do in this world that matter as much as sharing the written word. Guys Lit Wire continues to assist Ballou Sr High School because we think this library is home to a lot of great kids who deserve access to a lot more books then they currently have. Catch you back here Monday with all the details!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Santa's Existence Studied, Revealed

Eric Kaplan, one of the writers for television show The Big Bang Theory, has planned a playdate between his son, Ari, and his son's classmate, Schuyler. At the last second, Schuyler's mother cancels. The issue? It is near Christmas and Ari doesn't believe in Santa Claus while Schuyler does. Schuyler's mother, Tammi, does not want her son's belief in Santa Claus threatened by Ari's non-belief, so the playdate is off.

This gets Kaplan thinking. What does it mean to "believe" in Santa Claus? Does Tammi believe in Santa Claus? If she doesn't then is she just lying to her son? Does she both believe and not believe? Is that possible? If someone believes in something that obviously doesn't exist, wouldn't that make them, well, insane? What does it mean to exist anyway? Is there some sense in which Santa Clause really does exist? Kaplan realizes he doesn't really know, and sets about trying to figure it out. The result is Does Santa Exist: A Philosophical Investigation.

This is a nice holiday book. It makes references to a lot of your favorite Christmas stories. It has--spoiler alert--a feel good ending. It's also very funny, though not quiet as funny as the movie Elf, the funniest Christmas tale of all time.

That said, it is probably unlike any other holiday book you'll ever read.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


There Will Be BearsTyson is a crack shot when it involves hunting in video games, and he'd love to try it in real life.  For as long as he can remember, Gramps has promised to take him on his first elk hunt, and the time has finally come.  Or has it?

Several events are threatening to derail the promised hunting trip.  #1 - Attacks by a grizzly bear are popping up all over the news.  One victim lost an arm, and worse yet, an Ohio couple was killed.  Tyson's parents aren't thrilled about the idea of sending their son into the claws or jaws of a grizzly.  #2 - Something is up with Gramps.  Tyson's parents are keeping a secret about why Gramps has to leave their home and move hours away to live in a nursing home.  They are insisting that Gramps is in no condition to go on horseback into the wilderness to hunt anything.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Infinite Sky by C.J. Flood

13-year-old Iris feels abandoned. Her mum recently left the family. Her dad isn't doing the best job holding down the fort. Her older brother is running with a bad crowd. Now a group of Irish Travellers has set up camp in front of their farm. Even though her dad doesn't want her to get mixed up with the campers, Iris can't help being curious about them. She strikes up a friendship with a 14-year-old nicknamed Trick, an Irish boy who has seen so much more than she has, whose life is even less predictable than hers. Soon, Iris' family falls apart in ways she had never imagined.

Set in the UK, Infinite Sky by C.J. Flood is seen through the eyes of Iris - no pun intended, the point being that Iris is a good narrator for this story. She's at that critical age with a critical family situation. She's curious and naive, innocent and observant, torn between staying loyal to her family and seeking out something new. The boys who surround Iris - her father, her brother, and her new friend Trick - are even more troubled than she is. Iris is aware that her brother's new friends are reckless but doesn't know how to stop him from hanging out with them. All she knows is she wants to protect him, but she can't. She becomes distant from Matty, the girl who was once her best friend, and defies her father's orders by hanging out with Trick regularly.

My favorite brother-sister moment comes when Sam, an artist, finally responds to his sister's request to draw something special on her wall. This scene serves multiple purposes: illustrating the siblings' relationship, giving Sam a way to channel his pent-up energy and anger, and giving Iris something special. I also liked the moment when Iris listens to Sam tell the story of how he met his new friends and thinks to herself, "I just wanted to understand," and later, when she purposely keeps herself busy cleaning plates while her father and brother argue so she can hear what's going on and be right there to diffuse things, if need be.

The book's prologue tells of something that happens very, very late in the book. Though it is purposely vague, it does set the reader's mind on that path, so that when the tragedy finally occurred, I wasn't as surprised or shocked as I would have been had that first page not set things up. I can appreciate the prologue and its later repeat/reveal from a storytelling standpoint, as it's a structure that's used in many books (and movies, and TV episodes) - I'd love to hear if other readers liked it or not. Did it soften the blow, or make it easy to predict? Would you have had a different reading experience had the prologue not been included?

This is C.J. Flood's debut novel, and I enjoyed it. I think my favorite moments were the little ones, not the big ones. As I mentioned earlier, Iris is observant, and I liked when she noticed and described things that were so telling about her family and about herself, such as the state of their home:

The living room curtains were closed, but there was a gap in the middle where they didn't quiet meet. Mum had talked about replacing them ever since she shrank them in the wash last year. I promised that as soon as I had some money, I would do it myself.

Sunlight pierced through the gap, turning bits of dust to glitter.
- Page 68

Another lovely passage:

The next day came, and the next week, and we went on with our lives, which were just the same except for being messier and less organized and much, much quieter. - Page 81

My favorite sentence in the book is the closing sentence. Beautiful and true.

I'll keep my eyes peeled for Flood's next book, Everywhere River.

Visual note: I really liked the font the text was set in, which the publishing data page cites as "Incognito." Kudos to whoever selected the font. I also really like both the UK and the US covers of the book, which I think are pretty and appropriate for the story and the setting. I would wager that the UK cover, which I posted above, may be easier to sell to middle school boys than the US cover, which features Iris alone.

I have included this book on my Tough Issues for Teens booklist, under the category of Parent/Child Relationships. I would have listed it in another category, too, but that would have revealed a major plot point...