Monday, October 27, 2008

Fusion Story: Good Enough by Paula Yoo

How to Make Your Korean Parents Happy

1. Get a perfect score on the SATs.
2. Attend Korean church every week, no matter what.
3. Don't talk to boys. (They will distract you from your studies.)
4. Get into Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Dartmouth, Columbia, Brown, Penn, MIT, Stanford, University of California at Berkeley, Smith/Mount Holyoke/Bryn Mawr/Wellesley. Then get into Harvard or Yale Law School and/or Harvard or Yale Medical School.
5. Become a Korean doctor. When all else fails, marry a Korean doctor.

In the fusion story Good Enough by Paula Yoo, Korean American Patti Yoon guides us through her struggle to be a P.K.D (Perfect Korean Daughter). Patti is in her senior year of high school and the pressure is on to ace all six of her AP classes, get at least a score of 2300 on the SATs (2400 being the perfect score), become concertmaster of the Conneticut All-State High School Orchestra for the fourth time in a row (this would mean that she is the best violinist in the state), graduate valedictorian, and get into HARVARDYALEPRINCETON (or HYP). Patti is also thinking of going to Juilliard, the best music school in the US. Her parents would never even allow her to apply though. According to Patti's parents music is waaay too risky - there is no security in a career in music. But Patti is a remarkable violinist who truly feels the music and plays with emotion. Playing the violin makes her feel safe and happy, and lately she has been feeling empty and confused about trying to get into HYP.

Then there's the guy Patti is falling hard for, Ben Wheeler, aka Cute Trumpet Guy (whose main instrument is actually the guitar!). Patti meets Ben during auditions for All-State Orchestra and he is a new transfer to her high school. They talk about music all the time, exchange mix CDs, and have really fun jam sessions together. Ben suggests Patti apply to Juilliard without telling her parents.

Good Enough is a fairly predictable story. Teenage girl is stressed out by always trying to make her parents happy - at the risk of abandoning her real interests and at the risk of her own happiness. Plus, girl meets boy and falls for boy. And with lines like Suddenly all the chaos in the lobby silences, and everyone disappears, and we are the only ones in the room. There's this weird rushing sound in my ears, as if I'm falling off a cliff. the cheesiness factor gets pretty high in Patti's "love story." But aren't we all cheesy anyway when we really, really like someone (especially when we are teenagers)? And Paula Yoo does throw us a couple of curveballs in the plot to make the story different. The narrative is in very simple, straightforward language, but things are kept interesting because Patti's story is also told through lists, recipes, SAT tips, sample SAT questions, and college essay questions.

I really enjoyed reading Good Enough. I enjoyed reading about Korean American culture. I enjoyed reading about Patti's and Ben's passion for music. I also enjoyed being introduced to new (to me) artists and songs! I found myself really caring about Patti, her family and friends, and her problems. While reading I could really feel the pressure Patti was experiencing. I literally winced or had real *facepalm* moments every time Patti made a mistake and/or embarrassed herself. Above all, I really rooted for her to excel in her studies and music AND have a social life.

Good Enough is a much more than good enough exploration of a young adult's enormous pressure from family, peers, and/or self to be the best; confusion about what one really wants in life; and confusion about the relationship between success and happiness. Can you have happiness without success and vice versa? The novel also perfectly captures the worries, sense of endless possibilities, uncertainties, and feeling of freedom from taking the SATs, taking senior year classes, applying to colleges, and choosing a college to go to. I highly recommend this book to high school seniors and to young adults who are curious about what the last year in high school is really like. Good Enough is not perfect, but it is sooo good.

Good Enough is nominated in the Young Adult Novels category of the 2008 Cybils awards.

About Paula Yoo: Paula Yoo holds a B.A. in English (cum laude) from Yale University, an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College. Aside from being a children's/young adult literature writer, Paula is a TV drama screenwriter (her TV writing credits include NBC's "The West Wing," FOX’s "Tru Calling," and The CW’s "Hidden Palms"). She is also a professional freelance violinist.

Fellow fusion author David Yoo, writer of Girls for Breakfast, is her brother!

Link Love: Click here to check out the readergirlz feature on Good Enough and Paula Yoo. It includes cool stuff like a playlist, a video of Paula Yoo playing the violin, and ideas for a Good Enough-themed party!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Nick and Norah are really cool and really interesting. Nick is cute and smart and sensitive. He's a talented musician - a straight bassist in a queercore band who composes himself by composing songs. He writes amazing lyrics and puts together amazing playlists and thinks of each night, each moment, as a song. Norah is valedictorian of her high school and has just been accepted into Brown University. She's the daughter of a record company CEO who introduced her to every kind of music while she was growing up, so of course she's a music snob. And Norah may be a flannel-wearing Plain Jane, but she is really fierce. Nick and Norah are both straight-edged (no drinking, no smoking, no drugs - but this doesn't mean they don't cuss or don't have sex) and they are each other's musical soul mate.

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan starts with Nick asking Norah in a club if she would be his girlfriend for five minutes. Nick is trying to avoid the Evil Ex Tris who he is still obsessed with and who is walking towards him with a new boy toy. Norah is trying to forget the Evil Ex Tal who messes with her mind and who she continually falls in and out and in and out of love with. She is also trying to avoid her annoying sort of friend Tris who is coming her way. She answers Nick's question by kissing him. That kiss leads to a passionate and confusing night together exploring music, exploring each other, and exploring New York City. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for Nick and Norah, Tris and Tal are a physical and emotional repeating refrain in their night.

Alas, because of all the buzz I had heard about the book (mostly because of its movie adaptation), I approached it with almost impossibly high expectations. (Stupid Tarie, you know better than that - you usually approach books more critically). So I didn't like it as much as I thought I would. I enjoyed it and there were parts that I found hilarious, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

So what did I like about Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist? I definitely liked Nick and Norah; their passion for music (so much so that I wanted even more of it); their funny, sexy (maybe TOO sexy for my young adult fiction reading tastes *blush*), and exciting night; and their AMAZING chemistry and connection. I also like how the book introduced me to new music and re-awakened my own passion for music.

The chapters of the book alternate between Nick's point of view and Norah's point of view. David Levithan wrote Nick's parts and Rachel Cohn wrote Norah's parts. The structure of this very short novel (less than 200 pages) is very tight and its unity and fluidity really work. What I liked the most was Norah's voice. I found Norah's voice more authentic and more revealing than Nick's. Her thoughts, her questions, her feelings, her doubts and insecurities (about herself, boys, and her relationships with boys) were SO REAL that I found myself relating to her and to them.

What did I not like about Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist? There were too many parts in Nick's voice that I found too dense or pretentious. Like Nick was trying to be deep and it didn't work for me as a reader or the situation didn't really call for it. There were a couple of parts where I felt that Norah was also trying too hard to be profound.

Still, if someone were to ask me to recommend a cool young adult novel to them, I would definitely say, "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist." And I can't wait to watch the movie (which isn't out yet here in the Philippines)!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Finalists for the 2008 National Book Award for Young People's Literature

I am happy to share this news from the (American) National Book Foundation:

The finalists for the 2008 National Book Award for Young People's Literature are:

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (Simon & Schuster)
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum)
What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell (Scholastic)
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Hyperion)
The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (Alfred A. Knopf)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Last call to nominate your favorite children's and young adult books of 2008 for the Cybils!

Here is a note from Jen Robinson, the Literacy Evangelist for the 2008 Cybils:

Cybils Nominations: How Can You Participate?

Nominations for the third annual Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (the Cybils) opened Wednesday, October 1st and will stay open until Wednesday, October 15th. The goal of the Cybils team (some 100 bloggers) is to highlight books that are high in both literary quality and kid appeal. The Cybils were founded by Anne Boles Levy and Kelly Herold.

This year, awards will be given in nine categories (Easy Readers, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fiction Picture Books, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade Novels, Non-Fiction Middle Grade/Young Adult Books, Non-Fiction Picture Books, Poetry, Young Adult Novels). Anyone can nominate books in these categories (one nomination per person per category). Nominated titles must be published between January 1st and October 15th of this year, and the books must be in English (or bilingual, where one of the languages is English). To nominate titles, visit the Cybils blog (you have until October 15th). A separate post will be available for each category - simply nominate by commenting on those individual posts. If you are not sure which category to choose for a particular book, a questions thread will also be available.

Between October 16th and January 1st, Cybils panelists (children's and young adult bloggers) will winnow the nominations down to a 5-7 book short list for each category. A second set of panelists will then select the winning titles for the different categories. The winners will be announced on February 14th, 2009.

The Cybils lists, from long lists to short lists to the lists of winners, offer a wonderful resource to anyone looking for high-quality, kid-friendly books. The Cybils team has worked hard to balance democracy (anyone can nominate titles) with quality control (two rounds of panel judging by people who focus on children's books every day). We do this work because we consider it vital to get great books into the hands of children and young adults.

I've already nominated Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi (translated into English by Cathy Hirano) for the Fantasy & Science Fiction category, The Fold by An Na for the Young Adult Novels category, and The Year of the Rat by Grace Lin for the Middle Grade Novels category! What books have you nominated? What books are you planning to nominate? :o)

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Third and Final Twilight Movie Trailer

What do you all think of it? It has me bursting with emotion and wanting to read the novel again!