The view from my kitchen window this morning, 7-ish.
This fall, as you may have heard me mention, I am reading All-YA, All The Time. Yup, in honor of my middle school practicum at the Camden Rockport Middle School, I have set aside all adult books for later. I have read a variety of "boy" and "girl" interest books at higher-maturity and general audiences levels. I have recently read a couple that qualify as Outstanding, and I know this in part because I am still pining for the characters.
Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing) by Alison McGhee is a perfect "Bridge" book. (I'm working on a list of Bridge Books right now, as part of my project for the practicum. Bridge Books are books that help kids make the leap into more complex and longer chapter books, from the beloved Magic Treehouse series, Junie B. Jones, Clementine, etc.) Julia Gillian is an expert at papier-mache mask-making, she's not a fan of reading, she wants to master the claw machine (and get the meerkat!), and she walks her big dog around a specific 9 block radius from her apartment each day. She doesn't like it that her parents read depressing stories from the newspaper or that they are busy with their graduate studies (both are teachers) the summer that we meet her.
Julia Gillian is a quirky character, with the fears, frustrations, and disappointments that come right along with being 9-10ish. This isn't action-driven, but it's very compelling. She is a girl who is at ease in her community. I love the fact that her parents let her embrace her 9 block world, with very clear limits, especially since I sometimes encounter risk-averse parents who hesitate to let their children cross the street alone in tiny little Camden, Maine. (Oooh, can you tell this makes me a little passionate?)
My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park by Steve Kluger had me crying and laughing. It's an older teen novel that centers around three main characters and is told through their letters, IMs, and emails. I was not prepared to have a wet pillow at the end of this book, or be bereft for days afterward! Sometimes the whole letters/emails/IMs thing in storytelling feels like a cheap gimmick, and I was a little leery going into it. So it's the story of Tick, his brother Augie, and a new girl, Alejandra. Tick and Augie decided to be brothers back when they were seven, and Tick's mom had just died. The fact that Augie is Chinese-American and Tick is Caucasian doesn't enter into their discussion.
It's pretty clear to everyone who knows Augie that he's gay (lover of all things theatrical, belting out show tunes from the age of 2, etc.), but Augie is just now coming to that conclusion himself with his first crush. Tick would really like to date Ale, but she initially won't give him the time of day. So far this is sounding like so many other teen novels, right? For me, the astonishing thing about this book is how Kluger manages to write the "teen problem" book with humor and realism, and how these three teens ultimately succeed because they are connected to and supported by each other and to their family members (real and adopted).
My one beef: The cover is way too girly! This is truly a boy/girl crossover book, and yet it will be a hard sell for boys seeing the swirly Mary Poppins font and the twinkly stars on the cover. Do book designers READ the books they make covers for?! Kathy and I have some open-minded 8th grade boys in mind, but honestly, I will feel compelled to apologize for the cover.