Friday, January 06, 2012

The Best of 2011

Several of the many items [old and new] enjoyed and recommended by Burbank Public Library staff during 2011 for your consideration:

2011 was the year where it seemed that all the Young Adult (teen) authors had joined a cartel and decided they would write about the same thing, in the same way. There would be a love triangle involving a na├»ve but kick-ass girl and two “bad” boys, one who was really “good” and one who was truly “bad,” and the does-he-love-me-does-he-not conundrum would spin out for at least three books. Various side characters would add “complexity” and/or spice to the mix, sometimes in a dystopian future, sometimes in a re-imagined past, sometimes in space, sometimes in a world far, far away. And some of these books were very good, some were okay and did their job serviceably, and some were simply tedious, but after a steady diet of these tropes, I needed to break out and try something NEW. So what did I find to break me out of my reading doldrums? (because--of course--I’m back to reading my YA books...)

First, I listened to Hitch-22, the amazingly candid autobiography of Christopher Hitchens, whose very recent death has left me red-eyed for the last several days. If you haven’t read him before, listening to his sonorous voice over the course of 17 hours will also serve to remind you why we need public intellectuals in our society; Hitch will make you question your verities and your reasons for much of what you do. Here’s someone who really did examine his life, over and over, and changed what he perceived as hypocritical or unjust in his thought and in his actions. He is also often funny, incredibly erudite, had amazing friendships with equally amazing thinkers, was sometimes sophomoric (especially with his friends), and was very passionate about justice, democracy and exposing ugly truths and beautiful lies. He was never afraid to “name names,” and that fearlessness extended to such targets as Mother Theresa, Bill Clinton, and God. Whether I agreed with him or not, he was a bracing thinker, and he shook me up! Note: This audio book was released in 2010, but it was still “NEW” when I picked it up, so it’s going in my Best of 2011!

So back to the YA groaning table, where I will mention three books in particular that seemed to break the now too-familiar YA mold. The first is an import from France, and it is, indeed, very, very FRENCH. Gary Ghislain’s How I Stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend is a caper romance begging to be placed on the big screen, but it works beautifully on the page, or--even better--read aloud with a French accent (you know you want to try this!) especially for the character of Zelda, the so-called Alien Girlfriend. It’s a funny, fast read, with Fashion, Action and a little bit of, hmm, shall we say, Spicy Traction? And, hey, maybe even some aliens! Bon Appetit!The second book is Chime, by Franny Billingsley, and I long for a repeat of our Summer Reading Program contest, “Judge A Book By Its Cover,” because the cover for this book stinks! Oh, it’s not that bad, it just has a vapid, lounging blonde on the cover, whereas our corn-silk-haired heroine, Briony, is electrifyingly sharp, opinionated, and deserves to be hanged--or so she tells us on page one. This is a story that appears to take place in a vaguely familiar English countryside village, pre-WWI, replete with clergymen, farmers, city folk and country folk, but also inhabited by witches, spirits, the Boggy Mun who brings disease to the weak from his swamp, and Old Ones, as well as another odd person called the Chime Child. Is this the familiar paranormal ground on which the YA reader wallows? Ye-es, but what a difference a good author makes! This is an unusual book, with an inner mystery that gnaws disquietingly away within an entertaining, well-written yarn, touching oh-so-gently on the mistaken “known truths”of adolescence; ah, Know Thyself! Briony would appreciate Hitch-22 if only she could. And it’s a standalone book! There could be a sequel, but it doesn’t need one. What a relief.

My third choice for favorite of the year is The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith, and it was deuced difficult for me to read because it was so very dark in its depiction of an alternate reality. After surviving a hideous kidnapping and its equally hideous consequences (known only to himself and his best friend), young Jack travels to England in order to check out a boarding school he and his friend will attend for their last year of high school. Still shaken up by his recent brush with mortality and torture, he is accosted by a young stranger in a pub who claims to know him from “Marbury,” a place Jack knows nothing about. After the stranger leaves, Jack finds a pair of spectacles, or lenses, the stranger has left behind; once he has returned to his hotel room, he looks through them and finds himself transported to a primitive world where he is being hunted like an animal by others who seem vaguely familiar. When he realizes that the young man who was just skewered in front of him looks like the young man who approached him in the pub, Jack’s sense of reality slips another notch, and so does ours. What nightmare world, whose nightmare world has he entered? In what seems like days he finds himself back in his hotel room, terrified--and curious to put the Marbury lens back on. And when his best friend joins him in the strange world of Marbury, the nightmare only gets darker. Can Jack’s kidnapper be far behind him, with vengeance on his mind? This fast-paced horror novel will have you on edge--and there does appear to be a sequel in the works--eek! So much more to read, so little year to read it in!

Reviewed by Anarda

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