Eleven for 2011

2011 was a big year for me and the blog–lots of changes and lots of new milestones. I started posting author interviews, I was quoted on a real live book, the blog turned four. I even started tagging my posts! Since I really enjoyed sharing my top books from 2010 (and since it seemed like a fitting way to close out the year on the blog) I give you my eleven favorite books from 2011:

  1. The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta: This was one of my most anticipated books for 2011. Aside from being by Melina Marchetta–it’s a companion to one of my all-time favorite books Saving Francesca. Given its spot on this list, you can probably guess that it lived up to my high expectations.
  2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: Maggie Stiefvater is one of the most personable authors I’ve ever encountered at a signing. When I got a copy of this book at BEA all I really knew was that everyone was excited about it and there were horses. But it’s so much more that than. A truly charming fantasy that fans of Diana Wynne Jones would do well to pick up.
  3. Strings Attached by Judy Blundell: Judy Blundell’s books are magic with their blend of noir, historical detail and New York City atmosphere. In addition to having one of my favorite covers, it also has my favorite last line of 2011.
  4. Goliath by Scott Westerfeld: If you read this blog regularly, you probably know my love for steampunk already. I loved Westerfeld’s books before this series but this wonderful conclusion to the Leviathan trilogy clinched it’s spot as my favorite of his series. Definitely my most-loved sequel this year.
  5. Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter: After The Piper’s Son, this book might have been my most anticipated 2011 release. It also played a huge role in getting me and Nicole over to Book Expo America for the first time. Sleek and smart, this book reminded me why Carter’s Heist Society books are my favorite ongoing series.
  6. The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: (I didn’t want to put one author on this list twice but I should say that The Last Little Blue Envelope also garnered an honorable mention for being a sequel I loved more than the original book.) Eerie, suspenseful, funny and witty this book really showed Maureen Johnson at the top of her game. Also, it had Stephen–best character EVER.
  7. Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough: This book was a big part of my year as I was quoted on the galley copies (very exciting!). I love all of MacCullough’s books but this one combined a lot of most beloved elements with magic, time travel, history and New York City all in one slim volume full of fun.
  8. All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin: A clever take on fantasy in a dystopian setting complete with illegal chocolate. The whole book felt so real and evocative with characters that stay with you–I can’t wait to read the next book in this series.
  9. Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel: Zombies, steampunk, action, and romance! What more do you need for a fun, clever read?
  10. So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti: I feel like my summer was closely tied to this book as Nicole and I kept running into Ms. Colasanti at numerous signings and events promoting this book. Set in my own neighborhood, this romantic story was as much fun to read for the settings as it was for the characters and the story.
  11. Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg: Who doesn’t love Pride and Prejudice? This delightful retelling stays true to the original while adding fun twists to make it modern and unique. In addition to being my first Eulberg book, seeing Ms. Eulberg read from this one confirmed that I really, really want Elizabeth Eulberg to be my BFF.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan: Somehow it wouldn’t feel right to publish this post without mentioning this book as it was another highly anticipated book. (Not to mention that I finally got to see SRB at a signing!)
  • Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare: This will probably be the last book I read in 2011 and is part of my other favorite steampunk series (besides Leviathan). I haven’t reviewed it yet but it’s awesome so far!

I limited myself to books I read in 2011 that were published in 2011–but there were a lot of other great ones. There were actually a lot just from 2011 but I committed to eleven books so eleven books is all you get, dear readers.

Here’s to another year of great things for all of us and, of course, great books too in 2012!

The Piper’s Son: A(n excited!) Review

Thomas Finch Mackee is many things to many people. Musician, friend, and most recently complete jerk.

Five years ago his world seemed certain. He was friends with the girls from school. He wanted to be something more to Tara Finke. He would follow his charming father anywhere–most people would, Dom has always been a pied piper. That was before London.

That was before his family had to bury another empty coffin, this time for Tom’s uncle lost in the London bombing.

After London nothing is quite so sure. Tom’s father is gone. His mother and sister are in another city. He’s lost touch with his friends. Tom’s life is falling apart.

When Tom moves in with his pregnant aunt and finds a job working with the friends he abandoned he might also find a way back to himself. Everything is broken. But with a little time, and a lot of forgiveness, some of it can probably be fixed in The Piper’s Son (2011) by Melina Marchetta.

What a beautiful book. I’ve cried because books are funny, because they are sad, but this is the first time I ever felt teary at the end of the book because everything is so perfect and so beautiful.

The Piper’s Son is Marchetta’s fifth book. It is also a sequel to Saving Francesca–a book that has a permanent place in my top five all time favorite books. Interestingly you can see hints of Marchetta’s earlier works in this novel. You can see nods to Jellicoe Road in the snappy beginning*, Finnikin of the Rock in the things not overtly said, and of course nods to Saving Francesca (and even Looking for Alibrandi in terms of family dynamics). Much as I love Marchetta’s earlier books, especially Saving Francesca, this one might surpass them all.

Set five years after Saving Francesca this is an interesting book that is being marketed as Young Adult but where all of the characters are, technically, adults (Tom and his group are in their early twenties). The story also alternates between Tom’s view and his aunt Georgie who is 42 and pregnant. The alternating voices work to flesh out the story and make sense of Tom’s complex family. Their stories in tandem also work to highlight how much both characters change from the beginning of The Piper’s Son to the end.

Although The Piper’s Son is a sequel you can almost read it before Saving Francesca** because Marchetta has so masterfully built in Tom and his friends’ backstories into Tom’s story has readers learn what happened between the two novels. Everyone reader’s loved from Saving Francesca (Francesca and the girls and even Will Trombal) returns in this novel along with a lot of great new characters (Ned, Anabel). This book truly made me love Francesca and her group even more than I did before.

As always Marchetta has left me completely floored and truly enchanted. The Piper’s Son is a wonderful story that is both optimistic and utterly enthralling.

*And in a certain violin player named Ben! Thanks to the inimitable Karyn Silverman for pointing out Ben’s cameo to me!

**Don’t do this because part of the charm of Saving Francesca is meeting these characters for the first time. But if you feel you must ignore my advice, know that you could.

Possible Pairings: A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Reuinted by Hilary Weisman Graham, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando

Exclusive Bonus Content: I also want to say that I love the cover which is very different from the covers found on Saving Francesca but also in a way very Tom. It also ties in well with the scenes of the prologue. I also wanted to mention that Tom’s email is “anabelsbrother” and Anabel’s email is “tomssister” and it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in a novel. I’m glad I’m an only child because I’d be crushed if I had a sibling and they didn’t want to do that kind of email with me.

The Talking Dead: A Book List

They might not always be walking, but in the books on this list the dead are always talking. Ten books, in no particular order, where the dead sometimes walk, sometimes talk, and always play a huge part in the story.

  • Generation Dead by Daniel Waters: The dead are walking in Oakvale, Connecticut–at least some of them are. No one knows why some teenagers come back and some don’t. The only certainty is that there are those in Oakvale who’d prefer to see the dead stay buried.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: Hannah Baker killed herself two weeks ago. There are thirteen reasons that led to her suicide. All of them are explained in the cassette tapes Clay Jensen received in the mail–including what part Clay himself played in Hannah’s death.
  • White Cat by Holly Black: Cassel Sharpe is perfectly content being the straight arrow, ordinary guy in a family of crooked curse workers. That is when he’s not being followed by a white cat that reminds him a lot of his best friend Lila–the girl he killed three years ago.
  • Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta: The people of Lumatere are scattered, some trapped inside the kingdom walls while others live as exiles, haunted by the ghosts of their tragic past. But there might be hope. It all begins ten years after the five days of the unspeakable, when Finnikin of Lumatere climbs another rock.
  • Curses, Inc. by Vivian Vande Velde: Curses are bought and sold, magic is real, and the dead walk in this eerie collection of short stories.
  • Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough: Sadie is the new girl at school. Her brother keeps telling her to make friends. But it’s not that easy to fit in when you still talk every day to your brother who died four years ago.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix: When her father, the Abhorsen, becomes trapped in Death Sabriel has to assume her rightful duties as the next Abhorsen and save her father, and perhaps many others, from the dead that would keep him and claim the world of the living for themselves.
  • Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier: Each full moon Jena and her sisters cross the wildwood to visit the enchanted glade of the Other Realm for a night of dancing and revelry. Everyone knows the wildwood is a dangerous place filled with witches, ghosts and all manner of other worldly creatures–and the lake that claimed Jena’s cousin years ago. But no harm can come from dancing. Or can it?
  • The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan: Libby’s older sister Kwan has yin eyes and can see the dead who dwell in the realm of Yin. At least, she says she can. When Libby travels to Kwan’s native village in China for work, Libby starts to wonder if there is more truth to Kwan’s ghost stories than she was willing to believe.
  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray: Gemma Doyle doesn’t want to have visions or the power to travel between this world only visible in death or dreams. But this other realm might be Gemma’s only chance to make sense of her mother’s death and her strange new powers.

Ten for 2010

In no particular order, my ten favorite books from 2010:

  1. Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson: Scarlett is still living in a NYC hotel and her life is about to get way more insane when her boss Mrs. Amberson gives her the unenviable job of befriending an annoyingly perfect young Broadway star. Add to that said star’s especially annoying brother, Max, and you have a recipe for disaster.
  2. Heist Society by Ally Carter: Katarina Bishop knows a lot about stealing. So much, in fact, that she managed to steal herself a normal life. That was before she had to leave that life to clear her father of the one robbery he really didn’t commit.
  3. A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner: Sophos never wanted to be King of Sounis. But after he is abducted and presumed dead by his kingdom, Sophos realizes that responsibilities very rarely care about wants.
  4. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta: The people of Lumatere are scattered, some trapped inside the kingdom walls while others live as exiles, haunted by the ghosts of their tragic past. But there might be hope. It all begins ten years after the five days of the unspeakable, when Finnikin of Lumatere climbs another rock.
  5. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher: Nothing leaves Incarceron and nothing enters. No one knows where the prison is or how to get to it. So why does Finn suspect he has a life Outside the Prison? And why does Claudia have a key that seems to let her talk to Finn–a prisoner Inside?
  6. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare: Tessa Gray travels to London wanting to find her brother and start a new life. Instead she is dragged into the world of Shadowhunters and London’s Downworld–people with mysterious powers not of this world.
  7. A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley: Charlie Duskin and Rose Butler have nothing in common but by the end of the summer they might help each other get everything they’ve been longing for.
  8. The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan: Mae struggles to protect her brother Jamie from the warlocks who want to exploit his power. The enigmatic Ryves brothers are willing to help–if they can overcome their own demons first.
  9. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: Duh, who doesn’t have this one on their list? Do I even need to blurb it?
  10. White Cat by Holly Black: Cassel Sharpe is perfectly content being the straight arrow, ordinary guy in a family of crooked curse workers. That is when he’s not being followed by a white cat that reminds him a lot of his best friend Lila–the girl he killed three years ago.

Is it still early in the year? Yes. That said, these are my favorites so far. Maybe before the year is out there will be more but I’m not expecting it simply because there isn’t that much time to read more books from 2010. Who knows? Maybe this will end up being my top eleven or twelve.

Ticket to Ride: A Book List

Do you dream of travel? Do you just want to go on a crazy trip now and then? These books will take you around town, cross country, and maybe even around the world without ever leaving your chair.

  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: Clay Jensen always pined for Hannah Baker, but it’s only after it’s too late that he really understands her as he listens to thirteen tapes she left him mapping out their town as she experienced it and all of the events that led to her suicide.
  • What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell: The year is 1947 and everyone is eager to put the hardships of the War to End All Wars behind them. When Evie takes a trip with her mother and stepfather to Florida, she finds first love, secrets, and lies in this noirish read.
  • Heist Society by Ally Carter: Katarina Bishop knows all the angles and more than her fair share of cons. She even knows how to steal a legitimate education. But when her father is blamed for high profile theft, Kat will have to travel across Europe and put together her own heist society to clear his name and right some wrongs.
  • Bloomability by Sharon Creech: In her first life Dinnie lived with her family first in Kentucky, then Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana,Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, California and New Mexico. In her second life, Dinnie is whisked away to an eccentric international boarding school in Switzerland by her Aunt and Uncle.
  • A Room With a View by E. M. Forster: Lucy Honeychurch comes to Italy to see the art, broaden her cultural background, and admire the views. Instead what starts as a fight for a room with a view leads Lucy to witness a murder in the street and find an unexpected, and completely improper, romance.
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (see also: Paper Towns): Colin Singleton is a former childhood prodigy and the former boyfriend of 18 girls. All named Katherine. Colin and his best friend Hassan set off on a road trip to help Colin forget his problems. Along the way he might even forget he only dates girls named Katherine.
  • North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley: From behind, Terra looks perfect. But looks can be deceiving. A chance encounter takes Terra and her mother out of their restrictive lives and on a once-in-a-lifetime journey through China where Terra might find real love and, even more importantly, herself.
  • Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe (see also: Bad Kitty): Jasmine is in Venice, the most romantic city in the world, and in a beautiful hotel to be home-schooled (not from her actual home) while she takes intensive Italian lessons and her father writes his definitive book on the history of . . . soap. Oh and there’s also the matter of a murder that needs to be solved.
  • 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (see also: Girl at Sea): Ginny is good at following rules–even really weird ones delivered in 13 little blue envelopes by her infinitely more interesting Aunt Peg directing her to travel to London and across Europe.
  • Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough: The night Savannah brains her stepfather Jack with the frying pan is the night she decides to leave home for good. She takes her little brother and they begin a road trip that will change their lives almost as much as when their mother, Alice, made the same trip in reverse eighteen years ago. (
  • Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta: Taylor Markham is prepared for war with the Townies and the Cadets. What she isn’t prepared for is finding out her greatest enemies could be her greatest friends and that her past isn’t the closed book she expected.
  • The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson: Thanks to the sudden appearance of a car, Destiny and three of her classmates start a road trip searching for one fair day–a day where the good guy wins and everything adds up to something just right.
  • The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan: As if finding out he was the son of a god wasn’t weird enough, Percy also has to travel across the country to complete a quest and prevent the next world war.
  • A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell: Cora’s life fell apart abruptly. Now all she can think about are the maps she draws constantly and escaping her suffocating life. But the freedom Cora yearns for is closer than she thinks.
  • Jungle Crossing by Sydney Salter: Kat has dozens of reasons to skip her family’s vacation to Mexico from dangerous bandits to heatstroke. Could it be that, instead of being the worst vacation ever, going to Mexico will turn into one of Kat’s greatest adventures?
  • Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer: The year is 1817. Kate is in London enjoying a proper Season while Cecelia, much to her consternation, is left to languish in the country with her brother Oliver for company (at least until he’s turned into a tree). Will the girls be able to unravel a mystery (and fix Oliver) while they’re miles apart?
  • Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee: Maybelline Mary Katherine Mary Ann Chestnut (“Maybe” for short) is sick of living above her mother’s charm school. And of her mother. So Maybe recruits her best friends Ted and Hollywood to go with her to Los Angeles to find Maybe’s father.

Finnikin of the Rock: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

[Pre review notes: I almost broke WordPress trying to find a version of this review that I thought had been eaten. Turns out there were two versions! In the process of discovering that WordPress started typing weird words at me and flashing "danger" on a blank screen. But it was worth it.]

A long time ago, before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere. Though only nine, Finnikin knew the dream was not to be ignored.

Frightened for his kingdom, Finnikin convinced his friends Prince Balthazar and Lucian of the Mont to make a pledge with him. They climbed to the rock of three wonders and sacrificed flesh from their bodies and a hair from the head of a weeping princess Isaboe. Balthazar swore to die defending his royal house of Lumatere. Finnikin swore to be their protector and guide for as long as he lived.  Lucian vowed he would be the light whom they traveled toward in times of need.

That evening they slept easy knowing the land of Lumatere was truly blessed.

Until the five days of the unspeakable when the king and queen and their children are brutally murdered in the palace. An impostor seizes the throne and a curse binds all who remain inside the kingdom walls while those who escape are left to roam the land as exiles, dying by the thousands in fever camps.

But there might be hope.

A young novice named Evanjalin claims the true heir, Balthazar, is alive and that she can lead Finnikin to the prince. But Evanjalin’s machinations soon turn a journey to find the lost heir into a quest to break the curse and free Lumatere. It all begins ten years after the five days of the unspeakable, when Finnikin of Lumatere climbs another rock in Finnikin of the Rock (2010*) by Melina Marchetta.

Finnikin of the Rock is Marchetta’s first foray into the wide and wonderful world of fantasy, after writing three other critically acclaimed realistic fiction novels. In her author bio at the back of the book, Marchetta notes that for her the first step to writing this fantasy was knowing our own world well and finding a way to reflect that world–something Marchetta does expertly.

Marchetta’s world of Skuldenore is a place apart that still manages to feel very close to home throughout the story. There is something very natural in reading about this strange land of kings and magic. As always, the writing here is exceptional. The story blends humor, twists, romance, action and intrigue all with ease–sometimes even at the same time.

Fantasies are often the realm of strong women and brave men but this novel truly provides shining examples of both. Finnikin and Evanjalin are as powerful and brave a set of characters as any readers are likely to meet this year. Every single one of the characters, even the minor ones, that Marchetta conjures are truly original and memorable–even the dead ones.

English classes often mention Apostrophe as a literary device used to directly address an absent (or sometimes imagined) character, this book conjures the absent characters in their entirety. Finnikin of the Rock is a haunting novel about a cursed land and its pages are filled with ghosts and a palpable sense of what the Lumaterans have truly lost. All the same, Finnikin of the Rock is essentially a story about hope and rebuilding–with a nice dose of romance, action and intrigue thrown in (of course).

Marchetta won the 2009 Printz Award for her novel Jellicoe Road. It seems likely that this book is another Printz contender. One of the best fantasies I’ve read recently and one of the best books of any genre that I’ve read so far this year.

*Like Marchetta’s other novels this one was originally published in her native Australia. The original publication was 2008, 2010 marks the arrival of the first US edition. The cover shown here is the American version which I prefer to the Australian version.

Possible Pairings: Graceling by Kristin Cashore†, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip , The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner, Sleeping Beauty (animated film)

†I’m mainly putting Graceling as a possible pairing because it seems like an obvious choice. Both Cashore and Marchetta are talented writers, the settings are vaguely similar and Cashore wrote the back cover praise for Finnikin of the Rock–they even have similar covers. That said, I personally don’t think the two books have that much in common and feel the other pairings I listed jive more with this book’s tone and storyline and what not. I think the two will have overlap in fan bases but there are just other read-alikes that make more sense to me for various reasons (if you really want to know, ask me for the full analysis!). I enjoyed both books but the main thing is I feel like this one is leaps and bounds beyond Graceling as much as I did enjoy that one.
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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Finnikin of the Rock

Finding the “good” parents: My list

Read about the original challenge here

View the Master List

My list:

  1. Suite Scarlett (and its sequel Scarlett Fever) by Maureen Johnson: Scarlett Martin and her family have nothing but affection for each other aside from the occasional bout of sibling disagreement. They might not know much about running a hotel, but the Martins know lots about good parenting.
  2. Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt: Turner Buckminster’s mother is a regular moral compass, she always knows the right path and tries to show her husband where it is while encouraging young Turner to follow his own path which, eventually, might set his own father back on the straight and narrow.
  3. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher: No one is going to agree with me on this. The Warden might be ruthless and cold and scary, but by the end of the story I defy you to tell me he did not have his child’s best interests at heart in a weird, ruthless, cold and scary kind of way.
  4. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta: Trevanion went to prison for his son! And rescued him! And lots of other awesome things!
  5. Holes by Louis Sachar: Cursed, probably. Bad parents, no way. The Yelnatses are nothing but loving and supportive–even if they couldn’t stop Stanley’s dirty-rotten-no-good-pig-stealing ancestor from causing trouble.
  6. Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli: Stargirl is a free spirit and her parents are cool enough to let her. This book is filled with delightfully odd yet authentic adult characters besides parents.
  7. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare: Nothing speaks more to parental involvement and engagement like not telling your daughter she has the Sight. Lies aside, Jocelyn has Clary’s best interests at heart. And as a father figure it doesn’t get much more realistic than Luke–even when he’s swinging a knife fighting monsters.
  8. The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman: Sometimes being a responsible parent is just standing back while your daughters decide to pursue their own dreams instead of yours.
  9. The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander: Austin knows exactly what she wants. And her mom knows it might not end exactly as Austin plans. But she also knows that Austin needs to learn that lesson on her own. A realistic and often amusing depiction of a single mother at her best.
  10. The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga: I include this one to point out that sometimes the best parental characters are the ones that teens think they hate. The Step-Fascist is one of my favorite parents in YA because Fanboy hates him (thus the nickname) but the Step-Fascist still steps up repeatedly as a parent with no expectations of gratitude–totally real and totally awesome–because it takes a man to be a dad.

Jellicoe Road: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

On the Jellicoe Road coverA few months ago I predicted on this blog that Paper Towns (2008) would be receiving a nod from the Printz committee at the 2009 awards ceremony. Failing that, I was certain that after nabbing a National Book Award, What I Saw and How I Lied (2008) would take a Printz award/honor.

You can therefore imagine my surprise when it was neither of my predicted titles but Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road* (2008**) that won the 2009 Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature. Being a fan of Marchetta’s previous novels Looking for Alibrandi (1992) and especially Saving Francesca (2005) you can also imagine my embarrassment upon realizing one of my favorite authors had published a new book without my realizing it.

The only solution, of course, was to immediately procure a copy from my place of employ and read it as soon as possible.

Jellicoe Road coverJellicoe Road is not a novel with one protagonist. Rather, it is one with many. The story starts on the Jellicoe Road with a tragic accident that will have far reaching repercussions for each character in the novel. Then, abruptly, the story starts again twenty-two years later at the Jellicoe School–the boarding school located farther down the same road–when Taylor Markham is chosen to lead the school’s faction in a secret territory war that has spanned a generation between the school boarders, the Townies, and the Cadets.

The Jellicoe School is the only real home Taylor has ever known. She has been at the school since she was eleven, when her mother abandoned her on Jellicoe Road and Hannah drove by to pick Taylor up and take her to the school. Now seventeen, Taylor is in many ways still a young girl afraid of being abandoned by those she loves. Which is why, at the start of the story, Taylor balks at the authority thrust upon her and the relationships it will necessitate. Leading the Jellicoe School through the territory wars is bad enough, but being in charge of an entire dorm of students seems truly unbearable. Taylor’s resolve to live a life apart is tested, and in many ways broken, with the efforts of well-meaning friends and the appearance of Jonah Griggs–the one person Taylor never expected to see, or need, ever again.

As the territory wars escalate, Taylor’s life is thrown into disarray with the sudden disappearance of Hannah–the only adult Taylor would come close to calling family. With Hannah gone, Taylor begins reading Hannah’s unfinished novel for lack of anything else to cling to. Marchetta weaves Taylor’s story and the events of Hannah’s novel and even the histories of other characters together to create one haunting narrative where, the more Taylor reads, the more it feels like she is looking not at fictitious characters but at people she has known her entire life.

While trying to understand Hannah’s sudden absence, Taylor also starts to understand herself. Eventually she realizes that living life at a distance offers no protection from abandonment and provides even fewer options to heal scars from past betrayals.

The novel starts with rapid fire narration as Taylor throws out events and names at the reader without any frame of reference. Later in the story the importance of the Cadet, the Hermit, and the Brigadier becomes painfully obvious. But in the first pages the narrative comes closer to painfully confusing and unwieldy. By the end of my reading I had a marker at almost every page to indicated important points and favorite passages. However, if you can roll with the uncertainty, you will be rewarded. At a little over four hundred pages, Marchetta still creates a page-turner that moves quickly and weaves together every single narrative thread by the final page.

Because Taylor is not forthcoming with explanations, the novel reads like a mystery (fitting since my two Printz Award predictions were also mysteries of sorts). However a good portion of the story is also simply about friendship and love. Taylor expects neither from her time on the Jellicoe Road even though they might be exactly what she was supposed to find there all along. Marchetta blends moments of humor and gravitas in her unique prose style to create another really great read.

* Jellicoe Road was actually originally published, I assume in Marchetta’s native Australia, with the title On the Jellicoe Road. For various reasons, upon finishing the novel, I feel that this title is superior to the American edition’s shortened version.

** The book was originally published, again I assume in Australia, in 2006.

*** In addition to the original title being superior, in terms of relevance to the story, the original cover art is also much more apt. (Although I just realized the US cover has a Poppy on it which I will grudgingly admit is actually pretty relevant to the story. It also makes it impossible to pick a cover to feature here so, readers, you get both.)

Possible Pairings: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Heist Society by Ally Carter, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Paper Towns by John Green, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, The Wessex Papers by Daniel Parker, The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Looking for Alibrandi: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Looking for Alibrandi coverMelina Marchetta is Australian. According to the backflap copy for this book, she lives in Sydney where she teaches English at an all-boys high school. After the 1992 debut of her first novel Marchetta found herself in an interesting position. Looking for Alibrandi won every major literary award for young adult literature in Australia so that Marchetta subsequently had to teach her own book to her students. All told, not a bad problem to have.

Ten years later Saving Francesca came out and also garnered a lot of praise and awards (as well as regularly being in my Top Five). In short, Melina Marchetta is a pretty big deal. I enjoy her books because they feel like her characters are living lives that I might have had were things different.

Apparently, and I’m embarassed to say I only found this out yesterday, Looking for Alibrandi was also adapted into a movie in Australia in 2000 with Marchetta writing the screenplay. I wish I could find the DVD.

Set in Australia, this novel deals with a sub-community that I didn’t even know Australia had: Italians. Narrator, Josie, comes from an Italian family that immigrated to Australia. At a Catholic school she doesn’t like, surrounded by people who don’t understand the Italian part of her culture, seventeen-year-old Josie feels adrift.

Josie has a lot of women in her life. She lives with her mother and (much to her frustration) spends afternoons with her grandmother until her mom can pick her up. Josie’s father isn’t a part of the picture. He never has been. And what I like about this novel, is that it isn’t a big deal–it’s just life. No complex explanation, no pang of longing for the father she never met, he’s just no around.

Or is he?

Things get more complicated for Josie and her mom when Josie’s long-absent father suddenly reappears. After living without him for so long, Josie isn’t sure he’s worth her time now. In this thread of the novel, Marchetta does an excellent job exploring how Josie can acquaint herself with one of the people she should know better than anyone else.

Amidst this family confusion, Josie finds herself caught between two very different young men. Josie has always been attracted to John Barton, and with good reason. His life seems to have been handed to him on a silver platter. From a rich family, bound for law school, and good-looking, John seems to have everything going for him. Still, as John finally notices Josie and open up to her, Josie is shocked to find that John isn’t nearly as content as she would have guessed.

Jacob Coote, on the other hand, is completely comfortable in his own skin. From a working class family, Jacob is confident about his own bright future (and his ability to get there by sheer force of will). Drawn to Jacob’s radical ideas and striking personality, it’s hard to tell if Josie and Jacob are perfect for each other or too similar to ever really last.

Looking for Alibrandi is a novel with many facets and many plots. All of the characters are dimensional, adding their own stories to the larger narrative of the novel. In addition to an excellent dissection of family relations, Looking for Alibrandi is one of the best novels about the immigrant experience I have ever read. Yes, Josie is probably third generation if not later, and true these characters are immigrants to Australia and not the USA. Still, the novel offers admirable commentary to anyone interested in immigration (and assimilation) in America and elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Looking for Alibrandi

Saving Francesca: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Saving Francesca coverFirst of all, a belated happy Christmas to anyone who celebrates and a vague happy holidays and/or winter to those who do not. While looking for a book to review this week, I was slightly startled by how long it took me to find a suitable chick lit book–it seems that I have not been reading many of them lately. Happily I realized that I still had a ton to review from earlier reading. Yay for goodreads.com which reminded me of this fact!

On to the review:

Saving Francesca (2005) is Melina Marchetta’s second novel. Marchetta lives in Australia and, as her name might suggest, belongs to the community of Italian immigrants who now call Australia home. Marchetta’s first novel, Looking for Alibrandi was greeted with widespread critical acclaim and is now a standard part of Australian school curricula (meaning that Marchetta, a teacher, has to often teach her own novel to students). I feel that Saving Francesca is even better than Looking for Alibrandi, which might give some idea to how very good I think it is.

This novel, like Looking for Alibrandi, focuses on a family of Australian Italians. Sixteen-year-old Francesca Spinelli has a lot of limitations on her life. The worst might be her forced transfer to St. Sebastian’s, a former boy’s school that’s trying to turn co-ed. As Francesca explains “What a dream come true, right? Seven hundred and fifty boys and thirty girls? But the reality is that it’s either like living in a fish bowl or like you don’t exist.” Adding insult to injury, all of Francesca’s friends stayed at her old school, leaving Francesca with Siobhan the “slut of St. Stella’s”, Tara the “fanatic”, and Justine the “loser” as her only companions. Things only get worse when Francesca locks horns with the infuriating Will Trombal and Francesca’s mother, the usually vibrant and free-spirited Mia, refuses to get out of bed as she grapples with a depression that cripples not only Mia but Francesca and the rest of the family as well.

There is so much I want to say about this book. I love the story, I love the characters, I love the cover art for every edition I have seen. I love that Francesca’s voice is so unique and can appeal to just about everyone.

More important than any of that, the story is good. Marchetta tackles the issue of depression in a way that is new and effective. She never gets bogged down in presenting information that doesn’t relate to the story or the characters. At the same time, even though the depression plays a necessarily prevalent role in the novel, the story is about more than that.

While Francesca tries to make sense of her home life being turned inside out, she also starts to make sense of her own identity–something she never bothered to examine too closely at St. Stella’s when it became clear that her friends didn’t care about the “real” Francesca. Being thrown together with the other misfits from St. Stella’s, Francesca begins to find her own voice and her own place in the world. She also slowly begins to make sense of the boys at St. Sebastian’s. One of the best threads in the novel follows the evolving relations between the St. Stella’s transplants and their new, male, classmates.

Marchetta’s prose is vivid and to the point. The novel stays close to its main focus, Francesca and her family, to create a tight narrative that expertly traces the evolution of the characters in the novel. The story, narrative, and characters come together here to create one of those rare, arresting novels, that will grab readers attention from the first page through the last and still remain a satisfying read upon future perusals. Saving Francesca comes ten years after Looking for Alibrandi and, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, Marchetta spent the intervening years honing her craft to a rarely seen level of mastery.

Possible Pairings: Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Define “Normal” by Julie Anne Peters, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin