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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Weekly Reviews: Francesca Lia Block and Ursula K. Le Guin

Today we feature new books by two authors well-known among teen readers.

With Francesca Lia Block’s return to adult fiction we have, as Jamie says in her review, a perfect example of the New Adult category. In an Interview Magazine piece, Block was asked about the themes in this book, “In The Elementals, I explore the theme of escape into the imagination. It can be a seductive but sometimes dangerous thing. This book is a bit different for me because I was going through the death of my mom when I wrote it, and I wanted to explore the darker side of the imagination.” The magic of Block’s previous novels combines here with the disturbing mystery of a missing girl.

It is no secret that recommending poetry to young adults is a hard business. How fortuitous, then, when an author teens already know and love publishes a collection. Ursula Le Guin has been writing poetry since she was a child; this is her 12th collection. A few examples can be found using the links on the book’s webpage.

Another collection of Le Guin’s work, this time short fiction, was published in November by Small Beer Press — The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories. Volume One: Where on Earth; Volume Two: Outer Space, Inner Lands. I talked with a senior yesterday who spent much of her winter break reading these along with The Left Hand of Darkness. She says they’re wonderful!

BLOCK, Francesca Lia. The Elementals. 320p. St. Martin’s. 2012. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-1-250-00549-6. LC 2012028277.

The Elementals Adult/High School–Block’s latest is a perfect example of the “new adult” trend. While she is best known for Weetzie Bat (Harper, 1989) and its sequels, which won her the Margaret A. Edwards award, she has also written adult novels throughout her career, and this book straddles both age groups. Ariel and her friend Jeni had planned on attending UC Berkeley together, but when Ariel can’t go on a college visit due to her mother’s illness, Jeni goes without her and promptly disappears. Ariel decides to head to Berkeley anyway, as much to locate Jeni as to further her education. Once there, her search for her friend at first overtakes her life but then leads her to a beautiful mansion and the three older students who live there. Despite warnings from classmates and her own conscience, she can’t seem to stay away. Many of Block’s common themes are present–California as a place of ethereal mystery, damaged girls, slightly magical creatures, and unusual familial arrangements, complete with a baby. Most of the book reads very much like a young adult novel, and there are just a few instances of erotic sex that probably pushed the publication from teen to adult.–Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

LE GUIN, Ursula K. Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems. 196p. Houghton. 2012. Tr $22. ISBN 978-0-547-85820-3. LC 2012016363.  Finding My Elegy

Adult/High School–The author of the “Earthsea Cycle” and of highly regarded works of science fiction began publishing poetry in 1959. This volume collects 70 selections from 6 earlier books and provides 77 new ones, including the title poem. Many teens should appreciate these sentiments: “My elegy, your clothes are out of fashion./I see you walking past me on a country road/ in a worn cloak. Your steps are slow, along/a way that grows obscure as it leads back and back./In dusk some stars shine small and clear as tears/on a dark face that is not human. I will follow you.” The poems about nature are sure to please observant readers. Anyone who has been lucky enough to watch pelicans diving will especially appreciate “Pelicans.” “They’re awkward, angular, abstruse,/the great beak on a head so narrow,/a kind of weird Jurassic goose/lurching into the modern era./But the blue arc of sky lets loose–/ look, now!–the brown, unerring arrow!/ and see how beautiful, how grave,/the steady wings along the wave.” Unfortunately, the poems written about war seem timeless. “The Curse of the Prophetess” begins, “Hear my curse on the nation of Israel and the nation of Palestine/ May the generals of your armies/ be little, heavy-burdened donkeys,/ and your leaders be patient, old sheep.”  And continues, “Let the day come, let it come now,/when the name warrior will be a name of folly/and the word victory mean a vain thing.” Young adults will discover beauty and creativity in the poetry of an author whom they may already admire.–Karlan Sick, formerly at New York Public Library

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.