Book Love: Great stuff I’ve been reading lately

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a book recommendation, but that’s not for lack of great titles to talk about. Here’s a round-up of what I’ve been reading (and loving!) lately…

In DASH AND LILY’S BOOK OF DARES, David Levithan and Rachel Cohn tell the story of two New York City teens who meet through a notebook and get to know one another as it’s passed back and forth in some most entertaining ways. I loved this book, in part because Lily reminds me so frighteningly of a teenaged me, and in part because it’s just so warm, wonderful, and funny. It’s a delightful literary love story, and really…how do you not love a romantic comedy where the main characters are introduced via a red Moleskine notebook left on a shelf at the Strand bookstore? Highly recommended with a mug of hot chocolate and marshmallows.

Kids who live in a dump site of an unnamed third world country survive by what they find in the trash, until one day they find something that changes everything. It’s valuable, though they’re not sure why at first, and some people will kill to get it back.

I also loved that the world in this book isn’t black and whi…moreSome things I love about this book: the unnamed third world setting felt at times like India and at times like Latin America to me, so it has a real multicultural feel without that being the point of the story. I’d love to see more books like this, where the multiculturalism isn’t the point — but where it’s just one element of a larger story, and in this case, that larger story is full of mystery and intrigue.

I also loved that the world in this book isn’t black and white – the poverty-stricken kids who are the main characters do some questionable things — stealing, lying to the police, etc. to help achieve their goals and frankly, in the name of survival. The real world has so many gray areas that I think this will be a great discussion starter.

And finally, I liked the multiple perspectives. Sometimes it feels like an author uses multiple narrators just for the sake of it, but in this case, the different voices really led authenticity and perspective to the story and painted a more vivid, compelling picture of the community in which it happened. All in all, TRASH is a compelling page turner – and a unique read that I’d recommend for middle school readers.

I love-love-loved Nancy Werlin’s EXTRAORDINARY. It’s a story about friendship and promises, faeries and ancient debts, but more than that, it’s about how our lives and selves are shaped by the people whose lives intersect with ours. A beautiful, page-turner of a paranormal novel with a social conscience. This would make a great literature circles book for older middle school and high school readers who love paranormal because they’ll get their magic and romance, and some weighty issues to talk about, too. Highly, highly recommended. And if you’ve already read it, you should check out this recent post from Janni Lee Simner ( ), who discusses the book from the point of view of a Jewish reader who is also a lover of things Faerie. Lots to think about, but don’t read it until after you’ve read the book because, as Janni warns in the post, there are spoilers.

THE DAY BEFORE by Lisa Schroeder is the story of a precious 24 hours, in which a girl whose life is about to change the next day crosses paths with a boy with a secret deadline of his own. I requested this book through Simon & Schuster’s e-galley program for two reasons. First, I’m a fan of Lisa’s beautiful, poetic writing myself and second, because I have a contingent of seventh grade girls in my classes who devour everything she writes. I read this book in a night (be warned…it’s tough to stop once you get going!) and loved it for its romance, its mystery,  its magic, and its moments…those moments that we sometimes don’t stop to appreciate until something makes us. The poems here sparkle like a collection of favorite seashells at the beach, and I can already tell I’m going to have to referee fights over this one when I pick up a copy for my classroom library when it releases in June.

And finally…two writer-ish books…

In writing THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: AN EDITOR’S ADVICE TO WRITERS, long-time editor Betsy Lerner has crafted a book that’s part literary memoir, part self-help for writers, and part behind-the-scenes in publishing. All of it is entertaining or useful, and often both.  As a writer, I appreciated everything from the tough talk on getting down to work (without excuses) to the thoughts on staying creatively focused in an industry that sometimes knocks that spirit down. And of course, I loved the behind-the-scenes stories that pull back the curtain, like in the Wizard of Oz, to reveal that our editors are very much human, too. A great book for writers and people who want to write, and probably for editors, too.

Though I read SPARK: HOW CREATIVITY WORKS through the eyes of a writer, I truly appreciated the common ground that creative people in all sorts of disciplines share…the willingness to take chances and fail, the need to "fill the well" from time to time, taking in scenery and art of other kinds. And the variety of artists included — author Julie Burstein produces the public radio show STUDIO 360 and draws from a decade of interviews — is truly impressive, from poets and novelists, to sculptors, landscape artists, photographers, and musicians. The collection of essays and interviews between these pages is both inspiring and comforting, I think, for artists who spend so much time working alone and yet need to know that we aren’t really on our own at all.

So…I’m reading Suzanne Selfors’ MAD LOVE right now (funny and wonderful!) but will need a new book when I finish.    I’d love recommendations for MG or YA fiction or narrative nonfiction and also a good craft book for writers…something like BIRD BY BIRD or ON WRITING.  Any suggestions?