Some book love (and committee notes examples)…

A little hiatus from gender discussions… sort of

So I’ve tweeted about my love/hate of twitter.  I’m starting to realize the 140 characters thing is OK, if I use it mostly as a pointer to send followers to a place where I can wax poetic indefinitely. When I sent my first set of Tweets last weekend, four books featuring brothers, I intended to throw up a quick blog post sharing a few more details about each one. And then my rat brain started thinking more about gender. And I started writing all about that (and I’m still thinking about writing all about that). And while doing that I got started thinking about serving on book committees, which to me is old hat. But I’m always surprised how many questions fellow librarians have for me about the process. And my brilliant husband, Charlie @charliehuette, and his high school students (he’s basically a documentary filmmaking teacher) are working on sharing their work and their creative processes online.  They use the hashtag #bt2syw (the class is broadcast technology 2.  The syw= share your work). And Charlie’s been telling me lately that my notes on books for committee discussions is a bit like sharing my thought processes like he and his students are doing.

For today, to bring lots of worlds together, I’m going to post the nomination statements and/or notes that I wrote for several of the books that I mentioned on Saturday.  As a recap, on Best Fiction for Young Adults, when a member reads a book that he or she loves, they can nominate it, meaning all other committee members are expected to read it.  The nominator has the option of writing a statement to accompany the nomination.  Sometimes they are short– mind tend to be long (surprise!!)  They are also anonymous, so when committee members read the statement, and the book, they don’t know who nominated it. (I won’t get into it now, I think I’m working on a committee blog post for someday too– but in short, I think the anonymous nomination system is wonderful.)

For fun, here’s one of my nomination statements for a book featuring brothers that I mentioned in a Sunday tweet. [It’s fun to go back to the archives for this, because this committee has public discussions so I think it’s OK to share my notes now.  And because some of the initial buzz for these books may have grown quiet, and so it gives them a little secondary shot of love!]  Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (@corey_whaley).  You’ll notice a few places where I’ve got things in brackets, that’s because this is a not quite final draft.  I thought people might like to see an almost final product. One challenge in writing the nomination statement is to avoid giving spoilers, so I often tweaked just how many specific examples to include. Striking a balance between persuasive evidence and leaving discovery for the reader is challenging. Oh yeah, and when we met for discussion at the table I’d have additional notes, and hopefully even some additional arguments, so that what I said there was different than what people had already read from me.  So this is just the first part of the process.  My notes for table discussions would still different from this statement. I’m going to change the font color to try and make my old notes visually different from current blog thoughts.

Summary: (Required, and strict 30-word max is enforced by committee chair)

Cullen’s summer of small-town boredom abruptly ends when the supposed sighting of an extinct bird in the woods puts his town in the national news.  Then, his younger brother disappears.

Full statement (nearly final draft) #syw

This novel is powerful because of Cullen’s honest voice, its stark emotional relationships, and the weaving together of multiple narratives that cover a span of more than five years.  Undeniably a complicated, and at times dry, novel its slow pacing reminds us that most teens lead ordinary lives that aren’t full of extraordinary events.  And, that even when extraordinary events happen, much of life plods onward just as before. Curiously, once Gabriel disappears, the dryness and slow pace become an unexpected method to raise the emotional tension in the novel.

Cullen’s voice is initially arrogant, but readers soon realize that the arrogance compensates for his shy, social ineptitudes.  He becomes a likeable narrator quickly, because as anxious as he is to point out other’s foibles, he’s also honest enough to point out his own [example- maybe when he breaks up with first girl in her living room].  And, although clearly devastated by his brother’s disappearance, [find quote], he also manages to move on with daily activities.  In fact, sometimes whole chapters go by where he rarely seems to think about his brother.  This seeming inattention could make him unsympathetic, because don’t we all like to imagine that life would stop if something happened to one of our loved ones?  But, instead, Cullen’s life mirrors reality. Though Cullen is paralyzed by grief in many ways, he still sees friends, attempts romances, and comforts his family.  In many ways the author takes a challenging path by resisting making Cullen into an unrealistic hero who magically saves his brother.  Instead, Cullen is left with a much more mundane, but ultimately just as challenging task, to learn to live with the uncertainty of Gabriel’s disappearance.

The slow unfolding of the non-Cullen storylines is also interesting.  Though initially confusing, readers quickly anticipate that the non-Cullen chapters will lead someplace important, and the big reveal of the connections is very satisfying.  In fact, many readers will guess the truth of Gabriel’s abduction, and yet will have to wait several agonizing, tense chapters before the details are fully explained.

The emotions in this book are largely self-contained, with little visible hysteria displayed by any characters. Actions, typically, speak louder than words.  [The best friend’s decision to sleep on the floor of Cullen’s room, the mother’s decision to sleep in Gabriel’s room and listen to all his records].  But, when characters do articulate their emotions, they typically are devastating.  A great example is when Gabriel thinks, during his captivity, about how much he loves his best friend.  It’s a simple statement, but it’s simpleness makes it that much more heartfelt and authentic.  It’s also completely consistent with the view of Gabriel that Cullen has given us.  Gabriel’s thoughts, though rarely shared, definitely reinforce his unique character and underscore the bond that the brothers share.

And, just for fun, another book I tweeted about Saturday was Holly Goldberg Sloan’s I’ll be There. (@Hgoldbergsloan) I didn’t nominate that one, so I don’t have an official statement. But I’ve got some notes that I would have used during discussion, so I thought you might like to see them.  You’ll notice they aren’t necessarily complete sentences, but I’ve got examples of what I love about this book. They probably don’t make much sense to a person who hasn’t read the book– but the brilliant fun of being on a book committee is that everyone has read (theoretically) all of the 200+ books! And with only a few minutes to talk about each one there’s less, “Let me defend my points with flowery language” and more “Here’s what good– here’s a quick example that proves it. Bam, vote yes on my book.”

So it may not be obvious from my notes, but I think this is a stunningly beautiful relationship about love in many forms– love between siblings, love between parents and children, love between friends, the absence of love in relationships where there should be love, etc.  It’s heartbreaking.  It’s beautiful. It’s got lots of little interruptions for minor characters who seem fascinating in their own rights. When I re-read this book I fall in love with it all over again. In fact, reading my notes right now, I want nothing more than to curl up with it again this afternoon! (I love the best fiction for young adults notes archives!!  It’s like going through an old family photo album and reminiscing about when you visited the Grand Canyon and how that turkey sandwich by the side of the cliff was the best turkey sandwich you’ve ever had.)

AUTHOR: Sloan

BOOK:  I’ll be There

Loved the surprising moments of character development, like when the dad thinks about Jasper’s reaction to finding out they are adopting Riddle:

“Jared had asked endlessly for a brother.  And now he was getting one.  Tim Bell doubted that Jared ever imagined an older brother, but with Jared you just didn’t know.  That might have been what he meant all along.”  376

Thought Bobby’s whole self-tanning, arm-breaking disaster was hilarious.  But, then quickly kind of sinister the way he assumed Emily would stay at Motel 6 with him.

Loved the relationship between the brothers, and the few brief thoughts we heard from Riddle.  Thinking about Sam after he met Emily

“He comes and he goes now.  But when he’s here he’s far away.  So even when he comes back to me, he’s part gone.

I follow where I can follow where he will let me follow.

Like the ants follow in the line.

Because Sam is the only one who matters.

And if I lose my Sam, there will be nothing for me.”  116

As truck begins climbing mtn access road:

Sam was staring out the window.  Riddle looked over at Sam and his brother’s eyes said what they always said: it would be okay.  Because he would make it okay.”  193

Liked the interludes of other characters as well, like the cleaning woman at the motel with the Christmas pin, the scientists, the penny dealer, even the haircutter.

I also liked that there was never any mention of them kissing except at the soccer field:

Emily smiled…ran across the soccer field straight at the Vision in a Plaid Shirt.  With Haley immobilized, the other players stopped running.  Twenty-one girls now watched, dazed, as the boy/man/god put his arm around Emily’s shoulder, drew her near, and with the old chain-link fence between their two bodies, gave her the sweetest kiss any of them had ever seen.  The next day, despite the fact that Emily was a junior, and despite the fact that she was one of the weaker players, the team voted her captain for the following season.”  107

Strong yes.  Also love the cover art.
So there ya go.  A little more love for some books, and maybe a little window into book committees at the same time.

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