October 8, 2007

Top Ten Kick-A** Heroines of YA

A little while ago, bookshelvesofdoom pointed out an article in the Guardian in which Joanne Harris lists her top ten kids books with kick-a** heroines. It got me to thinking on my favorite tough girls of YA lit and why they rock. So I compiled my own list and here they are in alphabetical order by first name. WARNING: Here be spoilers. Some minor, some major. Proceed at your own risk.

Aerin
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
Because she's Lady Aerin, Dragon-Killer. Aerin teaches herself how to ride a warhorse, wield a sword, slay dragons, and save her homeland. She makes the right choices, even when those choices are unbearably difficult to make.

Favorite Kick-A** Moment: Burned by dragon fire inside and out, Aerin climbs up on the head of the great dragon Maur and plunges her knife right through his freaking eye.



Alanna of Trebond
Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce
Because she's the first female knight in more than 100 years. Alanna disguises herself as a boy, trades places with her twin brother, and goes to the palace to become a knight. Later known as the Lioness, she learns to face her fears and embrace the fact that she is both a woman and a knight.

Favorite Kick-A** Moment: In order to save her dying prince, Alanna risks losing everything she has fought for. Entering into a battle of wills with the god of Death, she refuses to let him take her best friend.




Dicey Tillerman
The Tillerman Cycle by Cynthia Voigt

Because she's fierce and determined in the face of terrible odds. The oldest of four siblings abandoned by their parents, Dicey takes responsibility for what's left of her family guiding them on a long journey in search of a place they can call home. Dicey takes her knocks standing up.

Favorite Kick-A** Moment: After her grandmother turns Dicey and her siblings away at the door, Dicey refuses to take no for an answer. She comes up with and carries out a plan to make them so indispensable that the old bat won't be able to let them go.



Enna
Enna Burning
by Shannon Hale
Because she burns. Literally. Enna can set whole armies on fire. And does. Several times. Not perfect and not a princess, she's just a girl who loves to laugh and fights for her country. Enna goes through a lot of pain before coming to terms with the consequences of burning. But she comes to terms with a vengeance.

Favorite Kick-A** Moment: On the brink of losing control and burning herself up, Enna forces herself to harness the fire to help her best friend Isi, and the two of them risk their lives to save each other.



Harry Crewe
The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

Because she's Damalur-Sol, Lady Hero. Because her name is Angharad and she refuses to go by anything but Harry. She's tall and awkward and strong and she doesn't give in to domineering kings who try to manipulate her with their freakish yellow eyes.

Favorite Kick-A** Moment: In a last-ditch attempt to fend off the marauding Northerners, Harry climbs to the highest point around, calls on the power of the Blue Sword and the Lady Aerin, and brings the entire mountain down on the opposing army.


Hermione Granger
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Because she is unafraid to be smart, uses her brain to solve her problems, and the idea for Dumbledore's Army was hers alone. Hermione is kind. And she never, never deserts Harry. She says what she thinks and doesn't care if it's popular or not.

Favorite Kick-A** Moment: Fed up with Malfoy continually getting away with his dastardly business, Hermione finally does what's needed to be done for three books: loses her cool, steps past Harry and Ron, and hauls off and punches the little weasel in the face.



Meg Murry
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Because she gets defensive and prickly when she's frightened and unsure. Meg is great at math and clumsy in groups. Traveling through time and space to save her little brother, her special power isn't physical strength but simply an ability to see clearly when all light is gone.

Favorite Kick-A** Moment: Accepting her father's and her own mortality and fallibility, Meg alone stares into the face of evil incarnate and manages to rescue her brother, not by outwitting IT, but by loving Charles Wallace and by not letting go.



Meredith Shale
Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess
Because she's a survivor. Meredith lives through nightmares unimaginable, more than any 15-year-old should ever have to live through. And when the law lets the nightmare right back into her house, she doesn't crumble and succumb. She fights. She fights and saves herself.

Favorite Kick-A** Moment: Pushed beyond the brink of endurance and about to see the unthinkable happen again, Meredith settles back into a batter's stance and, with one mighty swing, bashes Andy's statue of the Virgin Mary over the monster's head.



Mickle
The Westmark Trilogy by Lloyd Alexander
Because she's the Beggar Queen. Raised by a cutthroat and trained as a thief, Mickle can throw her voice across a room and eschews satin and jewels in favor of her customary shirt and breeches. As comfortable dicing with pickpockets as running the government, she knows when to hold on tight. And she knows when to let go.

Favorite Kick-A** Moment: Her political hands tied and her country on the brink of collapse, Queen Mickle steps down. After going into hiding, she proceeds to quietly mount a rebellion to overthrow the new government in order to save the country and the people she loves.


Val Russell
Valiant by Holly Black
Because she's Prince Valiant and she swings a crystal sword. An angry angsty girl faced with the ultimate betrayal, Val makes some pretty bad choices. But
when a true friend is in need she's able to dig herself out by the skin of her teeth. Determined to overcome her addictions, she puts her friend before herself and fights to save him.

Favorite Kick-A** Moment: When she realizes the man who put a sword in her hand and showed her how to use it is about to be executed for a crime he didn't commit, Val hunts down the real killer, exposes her in front of the entire faery court, and defeats her in the first real sword fight of her life.

October 3, 2007

Banned Books Week



It's Banned Books Week and I was amused to find one of the books I reviewed earlier this year on the list of the Ten Most Challenged Books of 2006. Carolyn Mackler's The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things was banned for a number of reasons, my favorite being that it is "anti-family." Turns out the story of an overweight girl who, refusing to succumb to peer and societal pressure to be skinny, learns how to be happy in her own skin, is really just cleverly disguised anti-family propaganda. I totally get that now.

Chris Crutcher, a perennial favorite among book banners, is also represented on the 2006 list. Bless him. For the record, Crutcher's books are awesome and a great way to go out and celebrate Banned Books Week would be to cozy up with a copy of Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes (my favorite of his). I think I'll celebrate by getting myself one of these super cool wristbands.

So grab a copy of Fahrenheit 451 or Harry Potter or whatever other book they're afraid of and exercise your freedom. Read a banned book. Talk about it with your kids. Make a librarian's day.

October 1, 2007

A Month of Reading: September


Best reads of the past month:

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Our book group selection this month and a good one it was. We had lots of fun discussing corn sex, mushroom fanatics, Italian pig hunters, and the dilemma of what to eat. We enjoyed some delicious pumpkin black bean soup while we were at it. I particularly liked that Pollan did not, in the end, offer the solution to the problem. Instead he spent his time outlining the many facets of this serious issue and then left it up to each reader to determine (if possible) what she can eat and still be able to live with herself. I feel more informed on the process of how mainstream food gets from the farm to me as well as the organic and locally grown alternatives. My views didn't change drastically through reading the book, but I certainly feel as though from here on out I will take my eating choices more seriously, that my final decisions will be more informed. Always a good end result.

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Hale has proved herself adept at finding obscure fairy tales and reworking them in mouth-watering new ways. Her latest offering is based on the little-known "Maid Maleen" by the Brothers Grimm. A lady and her loyal maid are locked in a tower for seven years as punishment for the lady's refusal to marry the man her father wants her to. The story details their imprisonment in the tower and the adventure that follows. Hale's version is told in diary format from the point of view of the maid--Dashti. I finished this one with mixed feelings. The conclusion I came to is that I wanted more. There was so much potential yet I felt I wasn't allowed to scratch past the surface of things. I liked Dashti, but she didn't have to struggle that hard to get what she got. Or at least her struggle wasn't given the gravity it deserved. Lady Saren, who had quite clearly been driven mad by some atrocious event, was so wonderfully vacant and creepy. I wanted to get to the root of her madness. When I finally found out, it was appropriately weird but it wasn't given enough time or depth. I wanted more. More psychological exploration, more emotion, more pages in general. Her previous books are chock full of it and so this one came off a bit...flat. These comments aside, I always recommend Shannon Hale highly and I eagerly await the fourth Bayern book.

To Weave a Web of Magic by Sharon Shinn, et al.
By the time I finally got around to reading Archangel and realizing what the rest of the civilized world already knew (that Sharon Shinn ROCKS) I started scavenging around for everything she's written and came across this short story compilation. When I saw that Patricia McKillip was one of the other contributors, I ordered it immediately. Closer to a novella than a short story, Shinn's "Fallen Angel" was a special treat since it takes place in Samaria--the world she created in the wonderful Archangel and revisited in three sequels and a prequel. This story is set about eighteen years after the events of Archangel and anytime I can catch a glimpse of Gabriel and Rachel is a good time. The story of the young Manadavvi heiress and the reckless orphan angel was short, sweet, utterly predictable, and I read it through in one sitting with a smile on my face.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Clocking in at over 700 pages, this doorstopper has no right to be anywhere near as entertaining as it is. But it is so entertaining. Kostova knows how to pace a tale so that her faithful reader never tires or wavers in her interest to see what happens next. I thought for sure I'd bog down somewhere in the middle and have to press on through but I never did. There were points where I stopped to marvel in bewilderment, "How many layers deep is the narrative running now? 4? 5? And yet I can't put it down!" This followed by a smile of intense satisfaction and more fevered page-turning. The story follows an unnamed narrator who recounts for her reader the decidedly unfortunate and increasingly bone-chilling events surrounding the finding of a medieval book, empty but for a rough image of a dragon and the single word "DRAKULYA." And, just like that, the hunt is ON. Kostova's characters are easy to empathize with and she handles scenes of great tension and layered emotion with a deft hand. Highly recommended.

Best rereads of the past month:

The Road Home by Ellen Emerson White
I hit a bit of a slump at the beginning of the month. It's never pretty when I get that way, wandering from shelf to shelf, sighing. After a few minutes of this, Aaron looks over at me knowingly. "Looking for a friend?" he asks. *sigh* He knows me well, my husband. Said restless state usually does require an old friend and this month I turned to one of my all-time top comfort reads. I know. Historically accurate, minutely researched Vietnam War novel=comfort read? you ask incredulously. What can I say? My favorite characters tend to endure mountains of suffering before attaining (hopefully) a modicum of happiness. Lt. Rebecca Phillips is no exception. What a heroine she is. A Radcliffe-educated nurse, Rebecca comes from stalwart, intellectual New England stock. She's the last person anyone expects to enlist in the Army and voluntarily get herself shipped off to Vietnam. But after the boy she loves is killed in the war and the brother she idolizes flees to Canada to escape the draft, Rebecca has to do something to deal with the pain and confusion that suddenly is her life. The War, unsurprisingly, turns out to be a million times worse than her worst nightmare, and gets progressively worse until Rebecca finds herself racing for her life through the jungle on a broken ankle, having been shot down in a helicopter she never should have been on in the first place. Yeah. White doesn't pull any punches and Rebecca goes through hell and back again before she finds herself home once more, utterly unable to deal with the ramifications of The War and the friends she gained and lost there. And Michael is at the top of the list. Michael Jennings--the bad-tempered private Rebecca meets while MIA in the bush. The second half of the novel follows Rebecca's stilted attempts to reconnect with her family and Michael. To somehow fit together the pieces of her two lives: Before and After The War. It's a tour de force, in my opinion. White's prose and dialogue are as rapid-fire as ever and my pulse races every time I read it. Rebecca and Michael are such wonderfully strong, tangible characters. They deserve every scrap of happiness they can get.

Cybils Nominations Now Open!

Click on the following links to nominate your favorite book in each category. One book per category and just leave the title and author in the comments section.

Fantasy/Science Fiction
Fiction Picture Books
Graphic Novels
Middle Grade Fiction
Non-Fiction: Middle Grade & Young Adult
Non-Fiction: Picture Books
Poetry
Young Adult Fiction