Bookish Brew: Summer Smoothie Edition

Image by Flickr user Pamela Bates
Image by Flickr user Pamela Bates

I don’t know what the weather’s like where you are, but here in southern California we’ve had some pretty hot days recently.  So I thought that for this entry in my occasional Bookish Brew series, a cool summer smoothie would be more in order than a hot drink.  Make that two smoothies– one for each of the narrators of Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando’s wonderful and authentic Roomies (2015 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers Nominations List). 

When Roomies begins, teens Lauren and Elizabeth are a couple months away from starting their freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley.  They have just received each other’s names and email addresses from the campus housing office because they have been matched as dorm roommates.  Lauren lives in San Francisco, California, which is not far from the city of Berkeley.  In her loving two-parent family, she is the eldest of her siblings by several years.  Her responsible nature may stem partly from her heavy child-rearing responsibilities.  She is somewhat shy, concerned with honesty and aims to work in scientific research.  Elizabeth, also known as E.B., lives in suburban New Jersey near the Shore with her single divorced mom with whom she does not have a close relationship.  Elizabeth can be overly sensitive at times and is more impulsive than Lauren, as well as more outgoing.  She plans to study landscape architecture. 

roomies zarr altebrandoInitiated by Elizabeth of course, the two begin an email correspondence over the summer.  They share the details of their lives and soon after their feelings and frustrations about friends, family and boyfriends.  This is not an epistolary novel, however; these emails are one component of a traditional narrative.  The two girls alternate narrating chapters. 

Initially Lauren and Elizabeth experience a mainly positive interaction, getting a feel for each other’s personalities, leaning on each other throughout a couple situations in their personal lives and sharing the joys of their respective first loves.  A misunderstanding arises, however, connected to Elizabeth‘s estranged father, who lives and owns an art gallery in San Francisco.  Both girls are challenged to look at the situation through the other’s eyes and decide whether reconciliation is possible.  In an interview with Harvard Magazine (September-October 2014) Tara Altebrando describes how she and Sara Zarr wrote the book both separately and together over a period of three years and mentions that they are considering either a sequel or another collaborative project.

I highly recommend listening to the audiobook version of Roomies if you can, which is voiced by Becca Battoe and Emily Eiden.  These two readers do an amazing job of vocally capturing the distinct rhythms and personalities of Lauren and Elizabeth, not to mention the differences in regional accents. 

But now the time has come to blend!  When choosing the ingredients for a “bookish brew” I consider the setting and the essential traits or qualities of the main character of a novel.  As there are two quite distinct main characters in Roomies, I’ve created two smoothies.  Continue reading Bookish Brew: Summer Smoothie Edition

Aftermath: How YA Novels Deal With Shootings

photo by flickr user Andrew_Writer
photo by flickr user Andrew_Writer

I began preparing this post last spring in observance of the Columbine High School tragedy, which occurred on April 20, 1999. Then the Boston Marathon bombing occurred, so I held off on posting because I felt that there were too many fresh wounds for people to read such a post. And I had my own issues, because I lived in Boston. But now I think it’s important to write this post, because sadly, these events occur far too regularly for me to find the perfect time to post, where it’s not too recent but not too far from everyone’s minds. And it has already been 15 years since Columbine, and yet there is no shortage of similar events to fill that space.

When it comes to Columbine, today’s teens mostly have no memory of this event, which may even have occurred before they were born. And unlike tragedies of the past few years, where we have had texting, tweeting, and news streaming online to keep us abreast of events as they unfold, many of us only knew about Columbine after it happened. This brings up a lot of thoughts about safety, over-exposure, and security – if we all have Internet access in most places, is it our duty to notify others about emergencies as they take place? Does that impede the measures of emergency personnel trying to get the situation under control, or does it help more people get to safety? Is checking Twitter for news all the time healthy, does it desensitize us, or does it depress us? I recall my experience of living in Boston on the day of the manhunt; after a good four hours of watching the same five news reports over and over again, I had to turn it off, watch some fun TV, and make snacks with a friend, because it was simply too exhausting. Then again, having so much access to news forces us to engage with current events and consider how they affect our lives.

So here is a simple list of YA novels that have attempted to unravel and understand how teens deal with violent occurrences – leading up to them, during them, and after them. No commentary, just publisher copy and a Goodreads link. I hope these can be helpful, meaningful, or healing for you. Continue reading Aftermath: How YA Novels Deal With Shootings