12523Good looking.  Fine.  Cute. Hunky.  Sexy.  Hot.  The word sexy can best be defined as being sexually suggestive, stimulating, or appealing.  However equivocal the word, since it can be used to describe how one feels and how one is perceived, that is the main focal point of the Young Adult novel by Joyce Carol Oates.  The novel begins with an intriguing first line which sucked me in immediately.  “Soon as he turned sixteen, put on weight and began to get attention for his looks, things began to turn weird.” (Sexy, p. 1)  That first chapter then continues on with descriptions of how good-looking, shy and sexy Darren Flynn is. Of course these are the opinions of the way he is perceived, spoken by the narrator.  Narrated in the third person with peppered dialogue here and there, we get to the crux of sexy and other issues that are floating around in Darren’s head and the other character’s too.

Darren Flynn is tallish light-haired and built like a swimmer/diver – broad shoulders, slim waist.  We are introduced to the two most import parts of his world, which are his home and school life.  These are the two places that an adolescent has to fit.  It seems that fitting in at home can prove to be just as difficult as fitting in at school.  Once these worlds are constructed for us along with the important characters the story takes off into directions you won’t believe.  Oates took the word sexy and exploited it to the max and that’s what I admired about the writing and the plot.  Sexy is not a typical Young Adult novel.  It has typical physical characteristics of a Young Adult novel because the chapters are fairly short, the typography is large, and the pages have wide margins.  However, Sexy has a literary style of writing and isn’t just a plot with typical characters that you’ve seen before and the plot is not predictable.  Some of the main themes of Sexy are coming of age, budding sexuality, friendship and trust, loyalty and its importance, how rumours get spread and can poison the innocent.  It’s worth the read and the 4 stars I gave it on Goodreads.

 Joyce Carol Oates is known for having written over 40 novels, plays, short stories, poetry, novellas, and non-fiction work.   Sexy is her fourth Young Adult novel published in 2005.  Some school libraries have attempted to ban Sexy because of its mature themes and strong language, although I don’t think it’s any worse than what adolescents hear and see daily on television or the internet. It’s for that reason I’d love to hear what adolescents have to say about it.  Some of her other Young Adult novels are Big Mouth & Ugly Girl (2002), Small Avalanches and Other Stories (2003), After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away (2006), Two or Three Things I forgot to Tell You (2012) and Freaky Green Eyes, which was critically acclaimed while being designated as one of the best children’s books of 2003. If you’ve read Sexy please comment below and tell me what you thought of it, especially if you’re an adolescent.

One Crazy Summer

This summer I plunged into One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia.  Its attractive cover will definitely 13639804entice Middle Grade readers, as well as Young Adult readers to discover a crazy summer in Oakland, California in 1968.  The novel begins with Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern, threes sisters on their way to Oakland in pursuit of their mother that left them behind.  Their meeting with Cecile, their mother, alias Nzila, will lead the girls to more than who their mother is but to a better understanding of the fight for Civil Rights.

One Crazy Summer explores everyday life in the sixties, while depicting another aspect of the Black Panthers’ movement.  It’s a touching and informative lesson in Black History.  The story means even more since it’s being told through the eyes of Delphine, the oldest sister who is eleven years old and responsible for everything.  She is terribly veracious in recounting the story and her personal feelings.  You will feel attached and supportive of her.  Vonetta is the middle sister and she loves to be seen, while Fern is the youngest and follows her two big sisters and looks to them for solace.

Rita Williams-Garcia won four major awards – the Scott O’Dell Awards for Historical Fiction, the Newberry Honor Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and was a National Book Award Finalist for One Crazy Summer along with many other literary distinctions.  The book is a lovely edition which contains Williams-Garcia’s acceptance speech for the Coretta Scott King award, a deleted chapter, and activities that could be used in schools to study this novel more in-depth.  Well worth the read and full of wonderful ideas for teachers that want to teach more African-American history. I rated One Crazy Summer 4 stars on Goodreads.  I’m very interested in discovering more of Rita Williams-Garcia’s work.  Some of her other titles include Blue Tights, Every Time a Rainbow Dies, Fast talk on a Slow Track, Jumped, Like sisters on the Homefront, and No Laughter Here.  This book seems to be a tribute to the children who lived through the vociferous times of the sixties.  …” “I had enjoyed my childhood.”  In spite of the necessary upheaval going on in the country and the world,….in spite of being reminded that tomorrow was not promised, I enjoyed my childhood.  My siblings and I indulged in now-vanishing pastimes.  We played hard.  Read books. Colored with crayons.  Rode bikes.  Spoke as children spoke.  Dreamed our childish dreams.  If our parents did anything for us at all, they gave us a place to be children and kept the adult world in its place-as best as they could.  But curious eyes and ears always latch on to something.” (One Crazy Summer, p.3 of Extras – An excerpt from Rita Williams-Garcia’s Acceptance Speech for the Coretta Scott King Author Award for One Crazy Summer)

After her father was discharged from the army, Williams-Garcia and her family moved back to New York where there was a strong presence of the Black Panther Party.  The image that she saw of them in her neighborhood didn’t at all equate to the image that was being delineated in the media.  She admits openly to members of her family being former Black Panthers and Black Nationalists.  Subsequently, this beautifully written story about the Black Panther Party’s handiwork in the black community and three little black girls discovering their mother and their civic duty is one you shouldn’t miss, not to mention it’s perfect for young readers. Click the link below to hear Rita Williams-Garcia speaking sprightly about One Crazy Summer and go to for more information about her work and her future upcoming events.

Paper Covers Rock

As dubious as I am about reading Young Adult books, I’m always surprised when I manage to find one that’s9369717 really worth the read.  It seems as if 2013 has been a charm for choosing really good ones.  Paper Covers Rock is the story of Alex.  A sixteen year old boy lacking assurance and attending an ivy league style boarding school.  A tragic incident occurs at the school when one of the boys dives head first off a rock into a river on campus and dies.  Thomas’s death is recounted along with Alex’s guilt.  He’s writing everything in his trusty  journal which is addressed to the us, the reader.  His feelings of guilt are accompanied with all the other awkward emotions of adolescence i.e. has low self-esteem, very self-critical, headstrong, yet fearful and easily coerced into doing stupid things.

The structure of the book consists of journal entries written in first person and in between those are dialogues.  Alex begins by explaining to us that his father gave him the journal a few years earlier and told him to fill it with his thoughts and that’s exactly what he does.  The first chapter is called “Call me Is Male”, which is an allusion to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick – a clever play on words.  The first line in Moby Dick is “Call me Ishmael”.  It’s very interesting how Hubbard tries to make this parallel to Moby Dick.  As a matter of fact, the book is filled with literary references.  Writing represents the way Alex tries to conceal his guilt but also the way he tries to redeem himself.  His talent for writing is the only good thing that comes out of this tragedy.  In the beginning, he isn’t at all aware of his talent for writing.  He is given various writing assignments by his English teacher, Miss Dovecott, who is enchanted by Alex’s writing talent.  However, she immediately identifies Alex’s guilt which shines through his writing.  So she continues to give more original writing assignments to try and uncover his guilty secret.  The journal entries give a certain familiarity to the reader.  We are literally privy to all of Alex’s intimate thoughts and emotions.  We trust him, care about him, and empathise with him. We are lead to believe that all he recounts is reliable.  Hubbard did an excellent job with the voices of Alex and Glenn.  There was no doubt for me that they were boys.  She was also brilliant with orchestrating the story(using the writing to reconstruct the retelling of the sad day of Thomas’s death and the surrounding events) and adding a bit of suspense at the same time.  Paper Covers Rock isn’t a long book and can be read in a two-hour sitting.  As the story progressed, I found myself reading faster because I wanted to know how all this was going to end.  This book brought out that I was glad I wasn’t an adolescent  in high school anymore.  Loads of angst and grief and insecurities. Hubbard got all that spot on.  Even though, it was well worth the read and a welcome change to the typical Young Adult novels that are popular at the moment.  I’d suggest this one for adolescents and adults(young at heart) who like reading realistic stories, with  a mix of contemporary and a dash of literature about them.

Jenny Hubbard was a finalist for the William C. Morris Debut Award for Paper Covers Rock in 2012. Paper Covers Rock was released in 2011.  This award goes to a debut innovative novels written for adolescents.  The award has only been in existence for five years.  The winner in 2012 was Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley.  The 2013 winner was Seraphina by Rachel Hartmen, which is quite popular.  The finalists were Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, After the Snow by S.D. Crockett, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth.  If you’re interested in quality YA, these titles looked pretty interesting when I checked them out.  The YALSA – Young Adult Library Services Association, a branch of the American Library Association, administers the award every year at the end of January.  Hubbard was also an English teacher for ten years in a boys boarding school so I guess that experience inspired her to write this book.  She has a second novel, title undetermined, that will be released at the end of 2013. Check out the video below for more information on Paper Covers Rock and on Jenny Hubbard.

Title: Paper Covers Rock

Genre:  Young Adult/Realistic Fiction/Coming of Age/ Mystery

Published:  2011

Edition:  Random House

Pages:  181

Language:  English

My rating:  * * * * 1/2

My favorite quote:  ”The campus is more beautiful to adults than it is to us:  we see it as a fishbowl, and they see it as a nest, with the stone buildings tucked inside the rolling hills at the feet of the Blue Ridge Mountains, supposedly the oldest chain of mountains in the United States. To adults,old is cozy.  To us, old is something we can’t imagine we will ever be.” (Paper Covers Rock, pp. 20-21)