Author Archive : Abby

I Found One!!

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If you have been following my posts then you know that I am on a mission – to find a book that (for lack of a better description) takes Romeo and Juliet and plants it in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

To me it’s a no-brainer. I mean picture it with me:

“Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair [Jerusalem] where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny.

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”

It practically writes itself… no? Maybe not.

Last year I read Ronit and Jamil, which was very intentionally R&J in the middle east. But it fell extremely short for me. You can read all about my disappointment here. Out of my disappointment came my quest. But despite my research I have yet to find anything current. But I did find something.

[Aside: Whenever I see someone one the subway/bus/at the cash register/whatever reading a book, I will always try to see what that book is. If it’s a book I know and love I feel an instant kinship with this stranger (“I don’t know you but I know this book and it’s great so you’re great”). If it’s one I don’t know but it looks interesting, I may at times ask them about it. It may be a librarian thing. It’s definitely a me thing.]

I met a woman at a subway station a few months ago. She was working at the station bodega thing and I was buying a Presto Card. Anyway, she was reading a book which immediately caught my attention. It’s called Habibi, which is the Arabic word for “my darling”. Growing up in Israel you hear this word everywhere. I’ve even been called the female form of the word (habibti) by a couple of my friends.

Habibi, by Naomi Shihab Nye, is a 1997 novel (somewhere between junior and YA) about a Liyana Aboud, a teenage Palestinian-American girl, who moves to Israel/Palestine and (you guessed it) falls in love with Omer, a Jewish boy. That’s what the back cover will tell you. But, as the subject matter requires, there is so much more to the story. It’s about the definition of home, culture shock and clashes, it provides a very important perspective of the situation in Israel/Palestine.

I’ve read a lot of not so enthusiastic reviews of this book since I read it, but for me it was really good. I grew up there and I experienced that time through my narrow lens. And to see another side of a story you know well, to be challenged in your beliefs, is one of the best gifts a book can give you. In my humble opinion, it is a book worth reading.

That said, you will not find it in our catalogue. I tried to purchase it, but was unsuccessful. But this is a good opportunity to discuss a wonderful service we provide – Inter Library Loans. In a nutshell, ILLOs allow you to request a book from another library system as if it were in ours. It’s really easy to do any anyone and everyone is welcome to do so. All you have to do is register here and you will have access to almost any book from any library in Ontario (including Habibi, I checked).

Read away, hibaybi [plural form]!


My 2017 YA Books

by  | Category: Must-Read Fiction
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For the last three years I have been participating in Goodreads’ Reading Challenge. I’m pretty sure you all know what it is, but if you don’t it’s a self-directed challenge in which you set your reading goal for the year ( for me, last year it was 30 books, this year it’s 40) and then you update your profile when you start a new book and when you finish it. Books that have gone from “currently reading” to “read during the year and automatically logged in your challenge tracker. I like it because I don’t like being told what books or kinds of books I should be reading – I like feeling like I’m making all my own choices, even if most of them are based on recommendations.

Out of the 30 books I read in 2017, 5 were categorized as YA. Some I already talked about here (and I’ll link to those posts so you can see exactly what I thought about them), but I wanted to share all of them with you. So here it goes:

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. By far the best YA novel I read in 2017. Possibly the best YA novel I’ve ever read.  Definitely one of the best novels I’ve read. Definitely the most important novel I’ve read in 2017. This is one of those books that I felt the need to write a post about. I moved me to tears and action. It was tragic and empowering. And Starr reminds me of a friend of mine.

Wintersong, by S. Jea-Jones. OHHHHHH this book was excellent!!! Wintersong is a retelling of Jim Henson’s film Labyrinth. But it also really isn’t. Yes, Jea-Jones’s Goblin King is clearly based off of David Bowie’s Jareth (but really he has to be, Bowie’s performance perfect). Yes, the Goblin King steals the protagonists sibling and she goes to his realm underground to get her back. But there is so much more that is different. There is a subtly to the story and storytelling that is enchanting. Liesl is the kind of protagonist that really speaks to me. She is stronger than she realizes. Resourceful and independent, though she never knew she could be. She loves deeply and will move heaven and earth to help those she loves. She’s selfishly altruistic, which seems like a contradiction in terms but really isn’t. I can’t wait to add the sequel to my 2018 challenge log!

A Thousand Nights and Spindle, by E. K. Johnston. Back at the start of 2017 we had an event (which some of you may have come to with your class) called Vaughan Teens Love Reading. It was a really awesome event and the best part was that authors E.K Johnston and Erin Bow  were there discussing their books, writing and research processes, they told weird/creepy/awesome stories, and so much more. Following the event I picked up A Thousand Nights, a brilliant retelling of Arabian Nights and the story of Shahrazad, and fell completely in love. It’s beautiful and complicated and (I would argue) Better than the original story. If only because she Johnston actually tackles the issue of the kidnapped woman and the monster husband. Spindle, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, was a little different. Though I wasn’t too keen on the story unfolding through the male perspective, it is beautiful and captivating and does have an active, engaging woman at the center.

Ronit & Jamil, by Pamela L. Laskin. If you follow me, you already know what I thought of this book.  So much potential, but kind of disappointing. I think it’s important for the subject matter. And while so much has been written about the conflict in the news (with biases in every direction possible), very little has been written about it in fiction – at least outside of Israel and Palestine. And that’s a shame. By reading about people (fictional or otherwise) on the other side we come to relate to them, we find common ground, and we become true advocates for peace. So yeah, important stuff, but I’m determined to find a more satisfying representation. Stay tuned.

Almost Midnight, by Rainbow Rowell. OHHHHHHHHH RAINBOW!!!!! Second only to Tamora Pierce (don’t get me started), Rainbow Rowell is my favorite author. I will read and recommend anything and everything she writes. If she published a knitting book I will try (once more) to knit so I can own that book with purpose. Now, truthfully, the library doesn’t own Almost Midnight. But you still have access to its content. Almost Midnight is a compilation of Rowell’s short stories. The first, “Midnights,” can be found in the short story anthology My True Love Gave to Me along with 11 other fantastic and adorable short, romantic stories. The second, “Kindred Spirits” was written and published especially for Book Day 2016. They are short so I won’t give you a synopsis, but I will say you should take a look. They are quick, heartwarming stories and I love them.

Here’s to another year of amazing, diverse, engaging, and challenging YA reads.

The Hate U Give

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I waited for what felt like a full year to read this book. I put it on hold as soon as it came out and dropped everything when it arrived on my shelf. The hype for it was insane… but so well-deserved.

The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old girl who lives in two worlds. She spends her days in a predominantly white private school, where she watches what she says and how she says it. But when school is over and all her friends go home to their fancy houses and gates communities, Starr returns to Garden Heights, where she no longer has to worry about appearing a stereotype but she also has to deal with the realities of living in “the hood”.

Starr’s two worlds collide one evening when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Between riots, protests, allegations and assumptions, Starr discovers that her actions and words are more powerful than she ever thought. Speaking up could change her life and her community for ever. Speaking up will come with a price. But so will staying silent.

Tupac said that Thug Life means “The Hate U Give Little Infants F**ks Everyone” and, as Starr learns and so many of us know, those words are still heartbreakingly relevant. This line reverberates through every page of Angie Thomas’s genius debut novel. Everyone needs to read this book and take its message to heart.

Hate begets hate. Violence leads to more violence.  And staying silent in the face of injustice changes nothing.

We need more books like this one. We need more diverse books, diverse protagonists, diverse authors writing in their own voice about what they know.

I won’t lie. This was not an easy book to read. I read it through tears and with an aching heart. But I would read it again in a second and I urge you all to read it too. It is one of the most important books written in our time.

Ready Player One שחקן מספר אחת

by  | Category: It's here!, Movie Madness, Must-Read Fiction, Pop Culture, Reading Lounge
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Hebrew to follow עברית בהמשך…

Hello friends!

I do this on For Your Leisure sometimes, but haven’t here yet. So welcome to the Teen Vortex’s first ever English-Hebrew post!

One of my responsibilities at VPL is the library’s Hebrew collection. The collection is housed at Bathurst Clark Resource Library, Dufferin Clark Library, and Pleasant Ridge Library (our three east area libraries). It’s an awesome collection and we are constantly adding to it, which is to say that if you want to read a book in Hebrew look no further than this link to find it. And if it’s not there, send out a request here and we will try to get it for you.

Okay. Enough shop talk. What I really came here to talk about is Ready Player One.

As you might know, this book by Ernest Cline has been adapted into a major motion picture that will be in theatres soon. Yay! I am so excited about this! Can you tell?

For those of you who haven’t seen it, here is the trailer for the film:

I highly recommend reading this book before the movie comes out (and also just in general because it’s great!). And now, if you wish, you can read it in Hebrew.

And that was basically the point of this post…

So, without further ado, the Hebrew portion of our day.

שלום חברים/ות!

אני כותבת פוסטים כאילו לפעמים בבלוג הראשי, אבל פה עדיין לא יצא לי. אז ברוכים/ות הבאים/ות לפוסט האנגלי-עברי הראשון של בלוג הנוער שלנו.

דבר ראשון, קצת קונטקסט: אחד התפקידים שלי בספרייה הוא האוסף העברי של הספרייה. האוסף נמצא בספריית בת’רסט קלארק, ספריית דפרין קלארק וספריית פלסנט רידג’ (שלושת הספריות באיזור מזרח). יש לנו אוסף מעולה ואנחנו מוסיפים ומעדכנים אותו כל הזמן, משמע אם יש משהו בעברית שאתם רוצים לקרוא או לראות כל שעליכם לעשות זה ללחוץ על הלינק הזה ולהתחיל לחפש. בנוסף, אם אתם/ן לא מוצאים/ות משהו שאתם/ן רוצים/ות תלחצו פה, תמלאו את טופס בקשה ואנחנו ננסה להוסיף אותו.

אוקיי, אז מספיק ענייני עבודה. מה שבאמת רציתי לדבר עליו זה שחקן מספר אחת.

ייתכן שכבר שמעתם/ן את השם הזה. מדובר בספר של ארנסט קליין שבקרוב מאוד הגרסה הקולנועית שלו יצא לאקרנים. יאיי!! אני ממש מתרגשת מזה!! שמתם/ן לב?

אם לא ראיתם/ן או אם בא לכם/ן לראות שוב, הטריילר לסרט נמצא למעלה.

אני ממש ממש ממש ממליצה על הספר הזה. גם אם אין לכם/ן רצון לראות את הסרט, כדאי לכם/ן לקרוא אותו. הוא מרגש, כיף וסחוף ומליון דברים אחרים!! ועכשיו אפשר לקרוא אותו גם בעברית.

וזהו… בעקרון זה כל מה שהיה לי לומר.

Ronit & Jamil… & my disappointment

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I usually don’t write about books I didn’t love. I get very uncomfortable using my (modest) platform in a negative way, or even a less than positive way. But I feel like I need to make an exception in the case of Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin.

I was so excited about this book. The subject matter spoke to me on so many levels that I was almost bursting at the seams when I got it.

Ronit & Jamil is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (get it?) set in present-day Israel. In this version, the star-crossed lovers are an Israeli daughter of a pharmacist and the Palestinian son of a doctor. And the whole story is told in verse or poems written by the protagonists.

I want to be clear: I didn’t hate this novel, I was just disappointed with it.

I wanted Ronit & Jamil to be amazing. I wanted it to move me and make me think. Sadly, it did not.

I mostly just felt that Laskin was hindered by the narrative structure she chose. The subject matter is so dense and so charged that a series of poems felt like a disservice. There is only so much a person can related in 14 lines of rhyming couplets.

I also felt, too often, that Laskin’s personal voice and politics weaseled their way into the text, making it difficult to believe the characters.

But I think the thing that was most upsetting to me was that it was clear in the writing that she was not actually from the region. She did a lot of research, that was evident. But you could tell she didn’t really know. It was in little things. It was in Ronit only knowing one Israeli singer, and it being the one who sings in English. In was in Ronit living in Ma’ale Adumim and saying it’s in the West Bank (regardless of whether it is or not, no one who lives there would say that). It was in Jamil quoting classic Muslim poets but no contemporary ones. At a time when so much emphasis is put on diversity in publishing, on authors of colour writing characters of colour, it felt out of place to have an outsider write something that requires an insider’s understanding.

I felt that Laskin skimmed the surface of a subject that deserved much more. Her book left me starving for more and I am eager to find it. We need more stories like these, stories that acknowledge the difficult reality we live in but recognize the glimmer of hope. But we need these stories to dig deep, to go the extra mile and represent the issues, we can’t just slap flowery language on the ugly bits and call it a day.

So no, I didn’t love Ronit & Jamil. But (!!) I urge you to read this book. You can do it in an hour (though that is another issue I have with it). Read it with an open mind and then please tell me what you think. And if you feel so moved, do me a favour and write your own version on our Write It blog because we need more stories about this and things like it.