When “Back to School” Means “Off to University”

We started preparing for the start of the new school year in a very different way than any year before because one of our kids was making a bigger change than normal – with a school year that involved moving out of the house and into a university residence – so some of the things we usually fit into our new school year planning had to be adjusted.

It turns out that packing your first child up to send them off to university is a lot more involved than I first thought and I was relieved to use the resources of WPL to get it done more easily (some of the research could even be done from the comfort of my own dining room table when I used our Digital Library – super cozy). It’s far too early to say whether or not things have gone well but I feel like we’ve done our best. Here are some of the best things we used to get ‘ready’.

It was helpful to read both fiction and non-fiction about this topic because any time I found myself thinking back to what my university years were like I would realize things like my own cell phone had been the same size as a men’s dress shoe and textbooks back then were still made of paper so I really needed to get some idea of the kind of pressure a modern university student is under. I can recommend Jean Hanff Korelitz’ Admission, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, and My Oxford Year which gave me an idea of what contemporary university life is like. An unexpected bonus came our way through the memoir by American disability rights advocate Haben Girma which is absolutely non-fiction but reads so beautifully it is like a witty, best friend novel. She is just telling you her captivating story of growing up in California, attending a small college in Oregon, and deciding to go to law school, and it’s as good as any YA novel out there. A wonderful picture of college life.

We also found many solid resources that focused on student mental health, finances, academic success, making new friends, choosing a career path, separating from home and family, potential romantic difficulties… I almost can’t keep typing… it’s really too much. Each year Maclean’s publishes their guide to universities in Canada with a survey of almost 50 schools and over 24 thousand students – it’s a great source and we receive the updated guide every year here at the library. My absolute favourite (I quoted it a few times, read it aloud at mealtimes, it became a bit of a ‘thing’ for the kids to tease me about but it really helped) among the books that I read was called Letting Go : a parents’ guide to understanding the college years because it included anecdotes from students, university staff, and parents. It was written by two college advisors in the U.S. and I found myself thinking about sections in this book often. I’m sure that it saved me from making some unwise choices during the weeks leading up to our last days of summer.

In school years past we would usually hit the cookbooks and find new meals to try in the first weeks of September but this year we were looking at food in a different way. We were helping our university-aged student prepare for the co-op term that will arrive in four very short months. Although we started with very elaborate ideas of what a university student’s perfect meal will look like (what were we thinking?) in the end we decided that it is more realistic to choose meals that are tasty and easy to prepare. We had success with a few cookbooks and have even added some of their recipes to the family rotation – Kevin Curry’s Fit Men Cook : 100 meal-prep recipes for men and women and The 5-minute Salad Lunchbox were our top two for realistic ingredients and flavour. In Kevin Curry’s book he provides a whole plan for approaching food and meal prep and, despite the use of the word ‘men’ in the title, we all found it useful.

During the last days of prep for her final move in day all I could focus on was reading cozy mysteries and I’m so pleased that I found a really good series on the shelves that had absolutely nothing to do with universities, children, packing, or choosing a career. It was all about two women who run a gingerbread cookie-baking business in a small murder-filled town outside of Washington, D.C. It’s so much fun (other than the murders) and it included a few lovely recipes to try. Just distracting enough. Now all I am thinking is “I can’t wait for Thanksgiving” and reading week. Who’s with me?

— Penny M.

Great Teen Reads to Start the School Year

The days are growing shorter and the leaves are starting to change colour. This can only mean one thing: the school year is about to begin. If you are looking for a good book for a novel study or just a great story to read in your spare time, the Waterloo Public Library has got you covered with a great selection of teen reads.

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
We Set the Dark on Fire is a perfect blend of the classic novel The Handmaid’s Tale and the teen bestseller Divergent. In the story there are three social classes: upper class, lower class and those that live beyond the wall. Men in the upper class have two wives: a Primera and a Segunda. A Primera is responsible for fulfilling the needs of his household. A Segunda is responsible for fulfilling his sexual needs. Young girls in this society are sent to school to learn how to properly serve their future husband.
Daniela graduates at the top of her class and is chosen by the wealthiest family to serve as a Primera. It is the highest honor that a girl could receive. However, Daniela is keeping a secret that could destroy everything– she was born beyond the wall.

A group of insurgents discover her true past and threaten to expose her, unless she aids them in their rebellion against the upper class. Daniela soon finds herself sympathizing with the rebellion and works to bring down the unjust class system.

There are so many parallels to our current political climate – the role of women in a male dominated society, the power of the rich elite over the poor and the vilification of those who live outside our borders. It prompts a lot of questions about the society we live in today – why do we settle for things the way they are? We Set the Dark on Fire opens the door for a lot of discussion.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Xiaomara is a lioness. She’s a fierce, independent young woman with a voice of her own. The problem is her family wants her to be a sheep. Her mother wants her to fall in line with religion, to silence her voice and obey.

With her voice gone, Xiaomara begins to pour her emotions onto the lines of a leather notebook, creating raw poetry. She keeps her words locked away from the world until she joins a slam poetry club. For the first time she has a platform to express herself and people are listening to what she has to say.

The book is written in verse, making it a quick read but it is full of so many different themes: family, friendship, sexuality, body image and self esteem.

The poetry Xiaomara creates is both genuine and sympathetic. She questions why things have to be the way they are simply because she’s young and female. Anyone who has ever felt like an outsider will relate to her words.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
The earth is damaged beyond repair. The icecaps have melted. The far north is submerged. Earthquakes have caused the west coast to drop into the ocean. The Great Lakes are so polluted that the water has turned into grey sludge. Hordes of people now scavenge the land looking for clean water and scraps of food. But perhaps the worst part of all – people have lost the ability to dream.

The only dreams that remain are those that live within Indigenous people, who are now being hunted for their bone marrow.

At first glance, The Marrow Thieves may seem like a basic dystopian novel, but it is really about the resilience of Indigenous people. The story echoes the real life residential schools that once tried to kill the culture and the dreams of Indigenous people. But in this novel it is the reverse- Indigenous people are being killed to restore the dreams of others.

The Marrow Thieves won the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Kirkus Prize and the White Pine Award. It is the kind of book that sweeps you into the story from the first page.

The Art of Breaking Things by Laura Sibson
Skye is a teflon girl. Nothing sticks to her. Nothing bothers her. Everything just slides right off. She might party too much. She might use more drugs than she should. She might get too familiar, a little too fast with any boy who gives her a second glance. But that’s just her style – she breaks the rules and pushes boundaries.

The truth is that Skye’s rebellious attitude is just a cover. Underneath she is struggling to bury her past. Something that’s too painful to remember. The only outlet she has is her art. Art helps her express what’s going on inside – what she keeps hidden from everyone.

The Art of Breaking Things is a realistic story that deals with difficult subject matter. The character of Skye is beautifully complex. She works hard at keeping a bad girl image, yet inside she is incredibly damaged and vulnerable. Her path to healing is powerful and full of emotion. Readers will be reminded of the character Melinda from Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

— Lesley L.

Step into the Fantasy World of Faerie

Teen Feature: Folk of the Air Series

Jude once lived in an ordinary house on an ordinary street. She watched TV and ate fish sticks drenched in ketchup like any ordinary girl. She was just a child when a man in a long dark coat took her and her sisters from the mortal world to the high court of Faerie, where nothing is ordinary. It is a realm where winged pixies, cat-faced goblins and faerie princes wear clothing made of flower petals and moth wings. They ride on giant toads and dine on bouquets of garlic and enchanted fruit.

The folk of the Faerie are not always kind to the humans who live in their world. They look down at them. They taunt their mortality. They use enchantments to torment them. Jude, despite her human limitations, refuses to be intimated. She has strength and a spirit of her own.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black reminded me of Game of Thrones. Although it is a fantasy novel, it is really a political intrigue story at its core. It took a few chapters for me to figure out that behind this beautiful fairy tale there is a web of conspiracy. Schemes for power and position are hidden in every corner of the plot. The further you get into the story, the more the beauty of the realm fades and its true nature is revealed.

Much like Game of Thrones author George R. Martin felt none of his characters were truly good or bad, every character in The Cruel Prince has both strengths and flaws. Even Jude, as moral as she is, will resort to deception when it comes to furthering her own ambitions.

“Someone you trust has already betrayed you.”

In the second book, The Wicked King, the realm of the Undersea threatens to invade. All the while Jude continues her balancing act – letting the faerie folk believe she is just a foolish mortal while secretly pulling the strings behind the throne. Like any game of deception, she can never be sure who is plotting against her.

8e6b3b52-50e3-4294-b4ea-6cabf0136fa4-hollyblackHolly Black is a master at painting pictures with words. The court of Faerie is beautifully described in both The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King. You can almost feel yourself being weaved into this world of magic and wonder.

I completely devoured both books in this series. I hung on every word, loved every page and rooted for Jude through every step of the story.

The final book in the Folk of the Air series will be released next year. I already have it highlighted on my calendar.

— Lesley L.

The Defiant

Rarely will I ever read a book series out of order. Reading a series out of order can be a recipe for disaster. You risk the plot not making sense. You risk missing key character points. And truthfully, you’re losing the overall effect of the author’s storytelling. But every so often I will come across a book that is so interesting that I fall to the temptation of starting a series in the middle. The Defiant just had too many of my interests to pass up. It’s historical fiction, it takes place in ancient Rome and it has strong female characters that kick butt and take names. And it’s written by Lesley Livingston, who wrote The Wondrous Strange series which I adored. I was so thrilled when I saw it; I dove right in without reading the first book.

Set in ancient Rome during the reign of Julius Caesar, The Defiant tells the story of Fallon, the daughter of a Celtic King.  Her homeland was attacked by Roman forces and she was taken captive. Sold as a slave to a ludus (a gladiator academy) she now fights as a gladiatrix named “Victrix.” Over time she wins the love of the crowd but earns the ire of those she has defeated. She finds herself in a violent feud with a rival ludus and one night her academy falls under attack. Fallon and the other gladiatrices escape, however their survival as fugitives is uncertain.

Although there are records of female gladiators during Roman times, very little is known about them. Male gladiators were depicted in artwork all across the Empire, while only one example of female gladiators exists. Nothing is known about their training or fighting styles. This leaves the narration of their story wide open. Author Lesley Livingston makes good use of this creative freedom. Fallon’s fighting style is so formidable, I found myself silently cheering her on as I read.  There is a tight comradery between Fallon and her fellow warriors that isn’t common to read. Most often stories will pit woman against woman in a rivalry for success. In this story, these gladiatrices will gladly die for one another.

The Defiant may be the second book in the series but I didn’t find myself lost or confused. The back story was blended into the plot so well that I could navigate the story without missing anything. As soon as I finished the book, I put a copy of The Valiant (book #1) on hold, only to discover that there is third book (The Triumphant) in the series set to be released this spring.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction, action based stories, ancient Rome or women who kick butt.

— Lesley L.

 

On the Come Up

After devouring and waxing poetic about Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, I was among the eager fans awaiting On The Come Up. It’s a coming-of-age story about a Black teenage girl named Bri who finds her calling, the power of her own voice and, ultimately, discovers who she wants to be.

I easily connected with Thomas’ writing style. It’s powerful, engaging and authentic as she shows Bri and her family’s struggles to make ends meet and deal with their complicated past. Through her dialogue, she reveals the bonds between the characters and adds humorous bits, delightful nerdy references and some solid banter.

I loved that Bri is so different compared to Starr (the main character of The Hate U Give). She is brash, headstrong, outspoken and occasionally makes poor choices but its through those choices, and their consequences, that we see Bri find out who she wants to be. She is flawed but passionate and once she focuses on what’s important to her, she is a force to be reckoned with.

Angie Thomas need not worry about Sophomoric Writer Blues. On The Come Up is a wonderful, thought-provoking read about self-discovery and while many readers may not connect with Bri’s hip hop world, Thomas has written a story about relatable issues (loss, friendship, the messiness of family, standing up for yourself) and allows her readers to take a look at the world through Bri’s eyes and walk in her Timberlands for at least a few hundred pages.

— Laurie P.

Graphic Novels : way more than superheroes

Are you a graphic novels fan? Until recently my answer would have been a resounding “no.” Just not my cup of tea, or so I thought. But one day, more out of idle curiosity than anything, I decided to give them a shot. Now graphic novels are a part—not a big part, mind you, but still a part—of my reading repertoire.

Here’s what I like about ’em. They allow for a fairly quick and easy read but then you can go back for a second (or third) look and discover things you didn’t see the first time round. Also, the words and pictures work together in a very special way so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I think you call that “synergy”.

This is the one I’m reading right now: Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (2018). Krosoczka has written and illustrated a number of kids’ books, including the very popular Lunch Lady series. In this outing, Jarrett tells his own story and that of his big, messy, dysfunctional family. He was raised by his grandparents and never knew his father. As for his mother, she flitted in and out of his life but mostly she was gone. One day he learned the reason why: his mother was a heroin addict. Much of her adult life was spent either in jail, in rehab or using. For such a bleak subject, I found this book to be ultimately positive and affirming.

Here are some other graphic novels I have enjoyed over the years. All of them are real life stories (which I think is part of the appeal for me) and just note the incredible range of subject matter.

My Friend Dahmer by Derk Backderf. This was my intro to the graphic novel world and was recommended by a former WPL staffer. It’s the story of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer while he was still in high school but already plenty disturbed. A very interesting read. You might want to check out the DVD of the same title. Actor Ross Lynch is excellent in the title role.

Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs. The author, a renowned children’s illustrator, tells the story of his parents, two working class Londoners who met in the 1920’s and stayed together until their deaths. It is utterly delightful and more moving and funny than you might expect from a graphic novel. Also check out the DVD of the same title. Every bit as charming as the book.

Becoming Unbecoming by Una. This one is about sexual violence against women, including the author’s own experiences. There is a lot more going on in this book besides personal narrative (such as various stats, questions and musings) which adds to this graphic novel’s complexity. The illustrations perfectly express the author’s emotions.

Secret Path by Gord Downie (of The Tragically Hip) and Jeff Lemire. It’s a true, unbearably sad story about Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a 12-year-old Indigenous boy sent to a Canadian residential school. Then Chanie decided to run away… The story and images will haunt you.

— Penny D.

PS  And just released is Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation. I haven’t read it yet, but it is getting a lot of buzz.

The Next Great Teen Read

As a Library Assistant, there is nothing I find more encouraging than having a teenager approach my desk looking for something to read. With Tumblr, Snapchat, WhatsApp and whatever other social media outlets out there that I’m far too old to understand it’s awesome to know that there are still so many teenagers who enjoy reading a good old fashioned book.

The best reader’s advisory questions I get are from high school students looking for their next great read. I always make sure I have a running list of the latest teen fiction to suit which ever genre appeals to them. This can be tricky, however, when faced with those keen readers that have already finished all of the popular teen titles in our collection. For this reason I was thrilled when The Echo Room by Parker Peeveyhouse crossed my desk.

In The Echo Room, Rett wakes up in an abandoned building. There is no food and no water. He has no memory of how he got there. There is blood on his clothes. There is blood on his hands. The only clue is the phrase “Scatter 3” written on the wall.

Stumbling through empty rooms, he comes across a girl named Bryn. She also claims to have no memory. As they explore, danger arrives. Their memories erase and the day repeats. And it repeats again. And again. Every time the day repeats, the reader learns a little more about Rett and Bryn’s situation.

The outside world is failing. Crops are making people sick. Parents are forced to work off their medical bills at government run facilities. Their children are being left to be raised in orphanages. As Rett and Bryn make their way through the abandoned building, they discover that surrounding area has turned into a wasteland- nothing but rocks and ruined structures. As the days keep repeating, Rett and Bryn begin to recall tiny parts of their former lives and they must put all the pieces together if they want to survive.

I am so excited to have another excellent title to recommend to those enthusiastic teen readers who come to my desk. The Echo Room will appeal to fans of The Maze Runner series, yet it offers a whole new take, combining all of the elements of a thriller, survival and science fiction book into one. Teen readers this IS your next great read.

— Lesley L.

Magic, Pirates & Princes

Lots of fantasy novels have magic. Some have brave warriors carrying long swords. A few might even have pirates sailing on wooden ships on the open sea. These Rebel Waves by Sarah Raasch takes fantasy to a whole new level by combining all three. The story is told from the point of view of three different characters, alternating the narrative from chapter to chapter: Adeluna (Lu) is a soldier who fought to bring down the oppressive forces who once controlled her country. Vex is a notorious pirate, who holds no allegiance to any government. He trades in the forbidden magic of Grace Loran. Benat (Ben) is heir to the throne of Argrid and finds himself torn between his loyalty to his father and secretly supporting the use of forbidden magic.

These Rebel Waves begins after Grace Loran’s revolution has ended. The fighting may have stopped but the battles continue. Instead of the clashing of swords, the conflicts have transformed into orchestrated plots to undermine anyone with any connections to magic. The storyline loosely mirrors the events of the Spanish Inquisition. Anyone accused of using magic are labeled as heretics and burned to death.

The first part of the book moves slowly. I’ll admit I didn’t feel particularly drawn into the story at first. The early chapters are dedicated to laying out the political atmosphere and are rather disjointed. The second half of the book, however, had me hooked! The plot begins to move full steam ahead. Lies are exposed and masks are uncovered and a chess match of political moves begins. It’s a race to see who can out maneuver who.

Several times I found myself peeking at how many pages were left and hoping the plot wouldn’t end abruptly. But of course, it is Book One of the series and the ending left me dangling with anticipation. Book Two (These Divided Shores) will be released in 2019, so it will be an entire year before the fate of Lu, Vex and Ben is discovered. Luckily, author Sara Raasch has another series, Snow Lie Ashes, to keep me busy until then.

— Lesley L.

People Kill People

An Outlook Into Gun Control

An elderly man purchases a gun. His mental health is not called into question. He takes excellent care of his gun until the day he shoots an intruder. When he sells the gun, no questions are asked about the buyer’s history. No questions are asked about their knowledge of weapons use. In Arizona, you don’t have to be a licensed dealer to sell a gun. And there are no laws requiring a background check for the buyer.

Since 2014, gun related deaths have increased significantly in the United States and mass shootings are becoming more widespread. In her author’s note, Ellen Hopkins explains that she wrote her novel People Kill People as a way to understand why someone would resort to pulling the trigger. Why do people hate? Why do people fear? Why do human beings go out and kill each other?

Using inspirations from the news, Hopkins developed six young characters that all have different life experiences and different points of view. Each of them has a reason to be angry. Anyone of them could be capable of gun violence.

Camilla is a young mother married to Rand. She is a stay at home mom to her three-year-old son but dreams of returning to the nightlife with other girls her age. She prefers to live in the moment rather than be saddled down with responsibly. Her rash actions often complicate her marriage.

Rand is married to Camilla. He works long hours and is studying to enter into the police force. In contrast to his wife, he doesn’t like to party. In childhood he suffered a trauma that he keeps hidden from his family. Despite his best efforts to keep it buried deep down, the memories rise up in unexpected ways.

Ashlynn grew up in a house full of violence. Her mother tried her best to shield her from it but the memories of her father’s brutality haunt her all the same.

Noelle was once an honour student with a world of opportunities ahead of her. She was the good girl, the responsible teen. A random act of gun violence left her injured and prone to seizures, taking away her promising future.

Silas wears steel-toed shoes just in case he’s in a fight. As his mother puts it – some people are just born angry. His temperament only worsened with his parent’s divorce.

Daniel is the product of an affair between a successful, married corporate attorney and a young Honduran housekeeper. His mother was deported when he was young and Daniel was sent to live with his father and step-mother. After his father passes, his step-mother raises him but with great resentment.

Author Ellen Hopkins brilliantly develops these characters as their stories start to intertwine. The decisions made by one character can affect all of the others, even if they don’t realize it. The story becomes so intermixed it’s easy to see how one action can cause a cascading effect until there is a powder keg just waiting to explode.

People Kill People is not without controversy. It contains violent actions and some very racist points of view. It is never gratuitous; however, it is always done to illustrate a point. It fits with the unstable upbringing of certain characters. Gun control is a widely debated subject in North America and People Kill People will make for very lively discussions in book clubs.

— Lesley L.

Book vs. Movie

Can a movie be better than the book? The Case of Ready Player One

With adaptations now common in the film world, readers have been proven time and time again that a movie adaptation can never be as good as the book. It’s a notion that had good reason. Books have more time to develop storylines, characters, and a world. Books invite readers on a personal journey with the characters and whatever they imagine is the true story. I’ve been a proponent of agreeing that books are ‘better’ than movies over the years, but I’ve started to question if this notion should be absolute. Can a movie be better than the book? In some cases, I think that yes, yes it can.

After my friend’s encouragement, I read the book Ready Player One by Ernst Cline. Now, I must preface that I’m not the target audience for this book. I didn’t grow up in the 80s, I’m not well versed in fan culture, and I’m not a teenage boy. As Cline described, this book is, “… a love letter to geek culture.” That letter certainly is not addressed to me. Regardless, I read the story for the adventure.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is set in the year 2044 where reality is a really ugly place. Eighteen-year-old Wade Watts finds an escape in the virtual utopia called the OASIS. When OASIS creator James Halliday dies, the late OASIS creator dedicates his entire will and inheritance to whoever can pass three very difficult tasks that will lead to uncovering an Easter egg. A global mad hunt ensues to find this egg, a lottery ticket, that is concealed in the virtual world.

I finished the book and didn’t quite understand the hype for it. One of the main reasons I didn’t care for the book was the writing style. For the first 100 pages, Wade tells the reader how everything works in the world. There is no room for the reader to uncover the clues along with Wade, as he breaks down every detail and feeds it to you. Where’s the adventure in that? Beyond the 80s references, the story was a fairy tale treasure hunt where plot conveniences, flat characters, and wish fulfillment didn’t add up to a great story that was promised.

Despite my problems with the book, I went to see the movie. I had faith that Steven Spielberg’s direction would make for a fun movie, and I was interested to see how he handled the more problematic aspects of the book. I went with the friend who initially recommended the book, and we both came to the same conclusion when we left the theatre together. The movie was better than the book.

How could that be? The book was rich with allusions and world building details. It was a love letter to geek culture. How is it that both the person who liked the book and didn’t like the book come to the same conclusion?

I have a theory why. This book dealt with virtual reality, an inherently visual concept. What better platform is there to showcase a virtual reality story than a movie where there are not only words on a page (the script), but music, sound, and grand visuals that dazzle us. It brought the story to life in a way that didn’t translate in the book for me. It was easier to show us the world as Wade walked through each scene and all the details in the book existed around him. Beyond that, Spielberg has a deep understanding of what stands as the epitome of geek culture: The Eater Egg. Everything thematically and narratively revolves around this. It gave a focus and coherence to the narrative that wasn’t present in the book. Not only could someone who understood all of the 80s references like my friend enjoy it, but someone who didn’t like me. Additionally, the secondary characters are given more agency in the movie, which led this tale to be the action-packed adventure that I had wanted the book to be.

It now makes me wonder about the nature of adaptations. Can they not only bring a beloved book to life, but a story that is more suited for the screen? While everyone can have a preferred platform in which stories are told, I can no longer say whether a book is better than a movie. Instead, the question I ask myself is: does this story work better as a book or movie?  With Ready Player One, I believe it’s a story that is perfect for the screen.

Are there any stories that you’ve encountered that work better as a movie than they did as the book? Decide for yourself if Ready Player One is a better suited for a book or movie by checking them out from WPL collection.

— Eleni Z.