24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Month: July 2017

Abby Reads: By Your Side by Kasie West

By Your Side by Kasie West
HarperTeen, 2017, 352 pages
Young Adult Fiction/Romance

In Kasie West’s By Your Side, Autumn has plans to head out to a cabin with her friends for the weekend and is about to hop in her crush’s car when she realizes she has to use the restroom. She runs back into the library — only to be locked inside. And what’s worse, it’s Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, so she’ll be in there until Tuesday morning. It’s bad enough to be trapped in a library, but things take another dive when Autumn discovers she’s not alone. Dax, the local troubled kid, is there, too. With three days stuck together, Autumn and Dax have plenty to learn about each other and plenty more to sort through once they’re free.

Look, I’m a librarian. Books about books and/or libraries is for me what catnip is to my cat. (Probably one of my favorite episodes of Arthur is “Locked in the Library!”) So when I saw my local library had a copy of this book on order, I immediately placed a hold on it and waited with anticipatory glee until it arrived, was processed, and placed neatly on the holdshelf for yours, truly. I have some disappointing news for my fellow books-about-books lovers: By Your Side is not a book about books or even a book, really, about being trapped in a library. While a good deal of the plot takes place in the public library, most of it does not — and the parts of it that do are pretty devoid of all things libraries.

I could forgive that. We all know (at least those of us in public libraries know) that getting teens into the library and, y’know, reading, is hard. So it’s not totally unreasonable that fictional teenagers trapped in a library for a three-day weekend might be more concerned with food and warmth than they are with books. I guess. (I kid.) But the primary issue I had with the plot was that it was totally implausible. West runs her two teens through a whole series of attempts to escape — they consider pulling the fire alarm to get fire trucks, and therefore adults, at the scene; they pull at the bells in a tower to alert nearby individuals that there are people inside; they yearn for their cell phones, which are conveniently unavailable or out of minutes; they look for a panic button under the circulation desk. But it never occurs to them to either put a sign in the window or use a landline. I realize landlines are a bit archaic (again, I kid), but if Autumn went behind the circulation desk to look for a panic button, I’m just not willing to believe she didn’t see a phone. Yeah, okay, maybe she would have had to dial the 9 to make an outgoing call (though she might’ve just called 911 and the whole thing would have been wrapped up), but there’s really no way around this. I try to suspend my disbelief for fiction, I really do — but this was just too absurd to me.

But moving on. Autumn and Dax, despite having three full days to get to know each other and expose their personalities, are kind of flat and boring individuals. Autumn’s defining feature is her apparently-clinical anxiety and Dax’s, his troubled-and-mysterious past. And, really, that’s about it. Autumn does not seem to have any significant interest in anything beyond her relationship with her crush, Jeff, and Dax’s interest extends only to escaping his foster home when he turns eighteen. Either of these might be interesting in depth, but the superficiality with which West explores these characteristics leaves Autumn and Dax two-dimensional and any potential chemistry between them is all the more diminished for it. (I also have to note that West apparently named Autumn after one of her daughters, which I just couldn’t get out of my head as I read, thanks to the dedication of the book. So uncomfortable.) The simplicity of the characters ultimately made for some pretty predictable content, too.

West’s prose in By Your Side is basic and unremarkable. Though easy to read and straightforward (perhaps an option for reluctant readers who seek something that is really very basic), for the bookworms this novel might pretend to appeal to in its marketing, the writing disappoints. There are no significant faux pas in the style, it’s just bland and uninspiring.

West has several other YA romances (you’ll notice the covers are all variations of the same image) and, while I haven’t read them, I get the sense from By Your Side that they’re probably pretty generic and formulaic. It’s hard to do that kind of thing well, but West’s work here really suffered. Though a few moments (particularly a late scene with Jeff) stood out as well-done, By Your Side is overall not as pretty inside as its cover. This one gets one-and-a-half hearts.

❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Show Off: Crisis Contacts

I’ve seen nifty posters for where to find help in the library on tough topics floating around the internet. Sometimes, these resource lists will be on bookmarks, instead. I love the idea of these lists — we know people, teens included (or especially) will avoid asking right out for these kinds of resources. It can feel embarrassing or cause other distress. But when we tape posters in small print with this information or put out bookmarks, we require a person to go up to the poster and examine it in full view of whoever else might be in the library in order to get any use out of it. This is a step toward anonymity, but we can do better.

So I had the idea to post some resources in a much larger font in the teen area at Alexandria Public Library in Alexandria, VA. The theory was that teens visiting the area could be easily sitting at the table in the middle of the bookshelf-enclosed space and easily be able to glance up and see a resource and a phone number or simple URL without being obvious about it if they preferred to do it without notice.

The door included both local and national resources for the topics that I felt would be most relevant to the community. This, of course, doesn’t mean I didn’t miss some potentially important resources. The placement of the door and the fact that past “displays” had a history of being destroyed or marked up with crayons (particularly lower pieces) meant I was pretty severely limited with size. And because it was important to me that the text was reasonably readable at a distance, I could only fit so many resources on the board.

Another challenge was making the board interesting. Because of the serious nature of it, I didn’t want to go overboard with cutesy designs or glitter. Instead, I went with simple speech bubbles with encouraging phrases like, “I hear you,” and “You are important.” The orange borders complemented the blue accents on the resource pieces.

I gave the display a title of “You Matter.” Looking back, I might use a different phrase, since I later realized this might be seen as an attempt to co-opt the Black Lives Matter movement, which was of course not my intent. I left this up longer than I do most displays on the door, and ultimately chose to permanently keep the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at the top right corner of the door regardless of what other displays I put up.

The limitation of space kept me from including more variety in the forms of resources. While online chat and text resources exist, they were not largely featured in this list of resources due to those limitations. I can’t offer any kind of indication as to how successful or useful the board was since much of the point of this resource was anonymity, but I hope it helped a few at least. I’ve since left my position at Alexandria Public Library, but hope the suicide prevention number remains. Any library considering a similar project should consider how to improve anonymity and access to these resources for their own community.

Abby Reads: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
HarperTeen, 2015, 272 pages
Fantasy Graphic Novel

With the ability to shapeshift and a great admiration for Lord Ballister Blackheart, Nimona has decided it’s time to be a sidekick. Though her origins are hazy, Nimona will not be denied by Blackheart and she eventually wears him down by taking what she wants and showing up to work against the Institute of Law Enforcement alongside Blackheart. With each battle, Nimona wreaks havoc on Blackheart’s plans but there’s something in Nimona that tugs at Blackheart and perhaps something nefarious going on at the Institute of Law Enforcement. With a mash-up of medieval times and science fiction, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is a highly original adventure that is far more than it first appears to be.

One of the impressive things about Nimona is that the story is far more complex than I can get into in a review. There are backstories, lies, hidden identities, layers of loyalty, and all sorts of plot subtleties that round out the story as a whole and complete narrative. With an ending that isn’t entirely conclusive, Stevenson leaves readers with the ability to insert their own ending, but not at the cost of the readers feeling lost or unfulfilled.

Another of Nimona’s strengths is its dedication to humor. The stark visual contrast between Nimona, who is short, pudgy, and pink-haired, to the tall, thin, dark-haired Blackheart is enough to make readers giggle to start, but the real gems come in the form of dialog. Nimona, a chronic over-reactor, regularly spurts lines of hilarity that are not, from her perspective, intended to be funny, but are amusing nonetheless. Stevenson’s skill in employing humor in a story that is so complex might remind some readers of Vonnegut, despite the radically different format. Readers won’t just smile from humor, however; Nimona is ultimately a story of heart and courage. The brand of courage in the graphic novel is more of a surety of oneself rather than, say, Men in Black courage of defeating aliens (although, if you liked Men in Black, you will also very much enjoy Nimona, I think). The book is immensely heartwarming at every turn, though particularly in scenes that feature Nimona and Blackheart alone.

Each character is carefully crafted with their own motivations, desires, backstories, and visual design that both serve to mirror and contradict their personalities. Stevenson succeeds a great deal in playing characters off one another, creating a sense of chemistry that is hard to find in other narratives. With the depth of each character, no relationship can afford to be truly superficial, even in instances of acquaintances.

Nimona is highly relevant for today — the attempt at diversity (which seems to be an excellent and still-emerging theme in media more and more) is evident (the story features a female lead who is decidedly not traditionally feminine outside of her pink hair, a woman in the ultimate seat of power, gay secondary characters, and a secondary character with a prosthetic limb — and not only this, but the primary relationship featured in the story is not of the romantic, or even friend (arguably), variety). Characters of color are few and far between and socioeconomic status appears to be a non-issue in many ways, so there are gaps, but Nimona remains one of the most overtly diverse pieces of fiction I’ve encountered in a while.

The relevance does not end at diversity, however. The politics of Nimona’s world are strikingly similar to what we see in many modern governments — a lack of trust between the government (or, more specifically, the Institute of Law Enforcement — the acronym of which you might notice could be anagrammed to the word “lie” — yeah, maybe I’m pushing it here, but still) and the people of its domain features heavily, though ultimately, the government is not acting on the best interests of the people.

Great for teens and adults alike, Nimona is a fresh take on old tropes that is both fun and thought-provoking (and hilarious). Stevenson’s work on the project was clearly done with loads of love and planning, and, from someone, you’ll remember, who isn’t huge on graphic novels, it comes recommended with four hearts.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Surviving the Death of a Sibling by T. J. Wray

Surviving the Death of a Sibling: Living through Grief When an Adult Brother or Sister Dies by T.J. Wray
Harmony, 2003, 247 pages
Non-Fiction, Self-Help

There are a whole lot of reasons I don’t want to do this review. I lost my brother to injuries sustained in a car crash in July 2016 and quickly discovered that there are almost no resources for grieving siblings. There are a few Facebook support groups, some hidden in-person groups if you’re lucky, a handful of articles written by people who have probably experienced the death of a sibling but aren’t professionals, and a few obscure books, some of which focus more on being a memoir than on being of use to a grieving sibling. T.J. Wray’s experience losing her own adult brother brought her to write Surviving the Death of a Sibling. The book came highly recommended on the two or three Facebook support groups I’m in and I’d come across it in my search for some kind of literature that would offer practical advice and comfort. So, I read it, and here I am to review it, because I think it’s important we discuss and promote what resources are out there because they are so few.

Wray has a background in religious studies, which may automatically turn some readers off. However, I found the presence of religion to be light in the book, which generally uses the famous stages of grief to move through its content. Although faith of various kinds pop up now and then, Wray does not push any kind of religious agenda nor insist that religion is the way through grief. Her background contributes, however, in making her especially sensitive to the counseling needs of others. Although she experienced her own sibling’s death, she always recognizes the circumstances of other grieving siblings may be very different from her own, and therefore they may find X, Y, Z, or some other, undefined strategy more helpful than what she herself found to be a useful tactic in her process.

For example, while Wray had the benefit of having other siblings to share and understand her grief (although they grieved differently, which caused other challenges), she notes that plenty of siblings suddenly find themselves only children and struggle with that identity, if that is how they choose to view the shift in their life. In other passages, Wray emphasizes that some siblings have the ability to say goodbye, while others do not. She notes this can cause those who watch their siblings pass from illness to go through more than one grieving process (speaking simply, with acknowledgment that the “grief process” isn’t a process in that it eventually comes to an end — it is, in fact, ongoing and evolving rather than something that can ever be considered “finished”), but she also appreciates that many siblings would gladly go through that pain for the chance to say goodbye. Ultimately, Wray’s sensitivity to variables is part of what makes the book so relevant.

Over and over again, I found myself nodding or even stopping to cry when a particularly accurate passage appeared. Wray hits on so many of the things that not only have I felt, but that I’ve seen expressed in the Facebook support groups again and again. Probably most prevalent is the frustration of having the sibling’s grief considered to be disenfranchised. While family, friends, acquaintances, and so on regularly ask siblings how their parents are responding to the tragedy, many forget that the sibling, too, is grieving, and not only this, but has lost a significant part of their past, present, and future.

Wray explains that siblings are often the one constant thing in a person’s life. No one else has quite as similar experiences as our siblings. No one else had our parents or grew up in our home. No one else shares private memories of events at which only the two of you were present. And it’s painful to confront the realization that you are now the sole keeper of these memories and experiences. Maybe you haven’t yet gotten your first “real” job, been married, had children, bought a house — whatever big life events matter to you — and your sibling will not be there to witness them. You’ve lost not only your past, someone with whom to reminisce, but also a part of your future. And any of the events they might have witnessed for you, you may now miss out on witnessing for them.

Earlier chapters of the book are filled with concrete advice readers can put into place in their own lives, particularly for the days immediately following the sibling’s death. Practical advice on funeral arrangements and such are especially useful, though I don’t know that anyone quite has the mind to read in those few free moments during the time of funeral planning.

Wray provides examples not only from her own life, but from a number of interviews she conducted for her research. Ages, causes of death, and other circumstances are varied in these examples, ensuring that readers will find at least a few anecdotes that apply specifically to them. These quotes help to not only offer a source of familiarity of situation but also contribute to the relaxed style of the book. Early on, Wray pledges to write in a style that isn’t overly complicated or burdensome. She recognizes that the reader is probably already overwhelmed and does not need a book full of complex sentence structures and words in the moment. This doesn’t stop the prose from being interesting and engaging, however. Wray is gifted at writing in such a way that holds the attention without drowning the reader.

One drawback I found was outdated resources referenced in the book. A jewelry maker, for example, who does memorial pieces was mentioned in the text and again in the appendix. When I sought out the resource online, I found the jeweler was apparently no longer in business or else known by something else. While I didn’t visit all of the listed resources, I imagine others are now outdated as there has not been a new edition of the book since it was originally published in 2003. (Consequently, I’m hoping to put together a resource list in the next few months.)

Wray’s writing is clear and sympathetic without being pitying. She recognizes the many emotions that come along with being a part of this “club” and offers what wisdom she has gathered over the years since her brother’s death to those who have been grieving for years as well as those who have been grieving for hours or days. If you are a grieving sibling or care about a grieving sibling and wish to better understand their new normal, Surviving the Death of a Sibling is a great place to start.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

© 2017 24 Hour Library

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑