Friday, February 26, 2010

Yes, Read Aloud

Jim Trelease's Read-Aloud Handbook had a very big impact at Chez Gauthier. I went to hear Trelease speak at our local elementary school when my oldest child was still a toddler. I brought his book home with me. His contention that boys model their behavior on their fathers and need to see their fathers (as well as other men) read, meant that the Gauthier boys had both parents reading to them (on alternating days) for years. They continued to read, themselves, into adolsecence, a point where conventional wisdom tells us that many males stop reading. And, surprise, today they tend to share their father's books and magazines rather than their mother's.

This makes me wonder what would have become of them if they hadn't had a reading father to model themselves upon or, even, a reading father who didn't know he needed to provide a model for his children. (This is what I call proactive parenting versus reactive parenting, by the way. But this isn't a parenting blog, so I won't say anymore about that.)

Just a few months ago I gave a young teaching family member a copy of The Read-Aloud Handbook for Christmas because I just can't let it go.

The book really has significance for me, so I'm happy to direct you to Jen Robinson's "reaction" to it.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Christmas Explained For You. Or Not.

You will enjoy Diary: Malcolm Gladwell a great deal more if you have listened to Gladwell reading his book Outliers. Which I have done. In fact, if you haven't at least read one of Gladwell's books, you might not enjoy this Vanity Fair piece at all.

Sorry. I just had to send this link to somebody.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Possible Crossover Book

You know, lots of times I'll hear some book has won an award. I go ahead and read it and am left thinking, Gee, was nothing else published that year? That's not the case with the truly terrific The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, which won the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger Award in 2007. Anything that could have beaten it would have had to be incredible.

Imagine a noncriminal Artemis Fowl in a book with an intellectually vigorous style similar to that of Octavian Nothing that is set in an English village that you might find in one of Dame Agatha's 1950's era novels. And then imagine that that the book you're talking about is very well-written on top of all that.

You're beginning to get the picture.

The Sweetness at the Bottome of the Pie is an adult mystery novel with an eleven-year-old main character, Flavia de Luce. She is one serious piece of work, the youngest child of what seems to be a depressed, country gentleman/stamp collector and his late, lamented wife who disappeared in the mountains years before. She has two older sisters, Ophelia, who plays the piano (classical music, of course) and Daphne who reads Dickens, with whom she is at constant war. They all live in a house the family has inhabited for generations, and Flavia has taken over an ancestor's personal laboratory. She is seriously into chemistry. She is extremely witty in a dark, brittle sort of way. And, yet, she is also innocent.

A body turns up in the cucumber patch. You can take it from there.

Setting this book in 1950 was a stroke of genius. Flavia is a bit over-the-top. Oh, hell, she's a lot of over-the-top, which is what makes her so marvelous. But no one could begin to believe she could exist in the twenty-first century. Her extensive knowledge of...all kinds of things...could only be acquired in a world without TV, malls, dance lessons, sports, and, it would seem, traditional schooling. (School is never mentioned.) And, for me, a big stumbling block with child mysteries is the fact that kids can't get around places on their own. But Flavia's always jumping on her old bike and pedaling off all over the place. It's believable in a pre-suburban world. I have ridden my bike to the library and even a church tag sale, but it's a huge undertaking, taking a big chunk out of my day. Traffic being what it is, I'm taking my life in my hands every time I do it. But in Flavia's world, it works.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the beginning of series. While I'd be delighted to spend more time with Flavia, I've often been disappointed with follow-up mysteries. She may be able to pull this off, though.

This series could definitely have crossover potential for sophisticated teen readers who enjoy literary humor.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why Don't We Go After The Adult Market?

While I was at that Margo Lanagan talk, I learned that Tender Morsels was published as an adult book in Australia. There will be a YA edition down under, but it isn't out yet. There are also adult and YA editions of the book in England.

England also did an adult and kid version of the Harry Potter books.

I think adult readers would be very interested in Tender Morsels. I think they'd be interested in Octavian Nothing, too. Same with The Book Thief. Fortunately, we live in a free country here in the U.S. of A., so they can read them if they want to.

But they'll never want to if they don't know about them. Sure these books are famous in kidlit circles. But most adult readers are not part of our circle. They have to know these books exist. I hate to say it, but they need to be marketed to.

I know I'm a lone voice on the subject of adults and picture books and will probably remain so. But, come on! They market YA to adults in other countries. I'm not suggesting something revolutionary.

Or do we Americans figure adults over here bought Harry Potter and Twilight without anyone having to make a special effort so we just aren't going to?

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Looks As If I Missed An Opportunity

I am interested in writers who write for both children and adults. For instance, at some point I'd like to try reading one of Rick Riordan's adult novels.

So, yesterday, I'm at the library book sale. I'm feeling very fussy because one of my family members has been raising questions about why I keep taking out more books from the library when I already own a basket and two shelves full of unread books. I'm feeling a little wary about shopping for more books I know I might not read for years.

I'm also having a rather good time doing some meeting and greeting.

I stumble upon a lovely looking little book by someone named Helen Dunmore. I think, Hmmm. Is that the Helen Dunmore who wrote The Tide Knot? Because if it is, I might like to read it.

But I don't know. Spending two dollars on the thing and looking up the author afterward would not have broken the bank at Chez Gauthier. But I'd just finished reading a book from my book basket, and if I bought another right away, I wouldn't be any further ahead, would I? And to not be any further ahead and then find out that the author wasn't the Helen Dunmore I was thinking of would have been annoying to say the least. So I walk away and leave the book there.

Sure, enough, the Helen Dumore who wrote The Tide Knot, does write adult fiction. The book I passed on sounded like Your Blue-Eyed Boy, though I don't remember that cover.

The library will probably have bins of unsold books out for days to come, so I might still find it. Yeah, I should take time off from work tomorrow to go look for a two-dollar used book.

I'll let you know if I find it.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Has This Been Covered In YA?

I recently finished reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. In it, a fourteen-year-old girl learns that she is, in fact, a boy. The book is a very wide-ranging story told by the adult Cal in which he talks a great deal about his very interesting ancestors but also of his childhood and early adolescence when he was Calliope. (A Greek family.)

As I was reading those sections of the book, I wondered if any YA novels deal with the same situation.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Maybe This Is What They're Talking About

Some authors who have written for adults and for kids/YA say they prefer writing for younger readers because younger readers are more demanding and less tolerant of things like, say, indulgent padding on the part of writers. I kept thinking of that as I read The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley.

I sought out The Go-Between for one reason: Its prologue begins with the line "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." I've always loved the line, even though I didn't know where it came from. I can't say that I understand how it pertains to the book that follows it since (modest spoiler) the main character is carrying on at the end pretty much as he did fifty years before. So what is it that was done differently in the past?

You know how I've gone on and on about how I keep stumbling upon father books? Well, The Go-Between isn't one of them. It is, however, an adult book with a child main character, another type of novel I keep finding myself attracted to.

Leo, writing in the 1950s, is recalling the summer of 1900 when, for a few weeks just before he turned thirteen, he stayed with a well-to-do boarding school classmate and his family. He is very taken with his friend's older sister and when he ends up serving as a messenger between her and one of the local farmers, he doesn't realize that he's helping them carry on an illicit romantic relationship.

(Lady Chatterly's Lover meets Atonement. In fact, Ian McEwan provides one of the blurbs for the edition of The Go-Between that I read.)

This story's bones are marvelous. I've been trying to think of any YA novel has covered the same material but truly as YA, not as an adult book with an adult protagonist recalling the experience. And the writing is elegant.

There is just so much of it. Any scene that could be covered nicely in paragraphs goes on for pages. And pages. And a scene that needed a few pages went on forever.

I am willing to concede that maybe I'm just not up to this type of literary reading. But I would also like to consider the possibility that this is what those writers I was talking about in the first paragraph were referring to when they said that adult readers put up with a lot from their writers.

On a more positive note, I think The Go-Between has the best epilogue I've ever read. I usually don't like them. They seem like some little tack-on to make readers who can't give up their characters a look into a happy future. Someone has her dead lover's baby, so we can all feel good about that. Everyone grows up and marries the person they were attracted to at school, which is supposed to make us happy. You know what I mean. But this one actually adds to the story and even extends it. Very good.

Training Report: Two segments for the 365 Story Project, and I finally started an essay I've been thinking about for a while. While I am concerned that I haven't got the next few Project segments planned, which will almost certainly mean I won't be doing any writing over the weekend, I did do some research for background for one of the characters and his family. And since that background involves yoga, it is appropriate for me to refer you to Ogden: The Inappropriate Yoga Guy.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

So Do You Suppose Someone Will Write A Novel About J.K. Rowling Sometime In The Twenty-second Century?

I finished reading The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl last night. Pearl writes historical mysteries in which real historical figures appear--fictionally. In The Last Dickens he creates a mystery around the ending of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, since its author, Charles Dickens, died before finishing it.

Dickens appears in the book during his final tour of the United States. According to the author's notes, a great deal of the detail included in the novel is historically accurate, including a stalker. Pearl describes lines for tickets, speculators (what we'd call scalpers), and "bookaneers," what might be described as mercenaries hired by publishers to steal manuscripts from England as they arrive in the United States by ship and transcribe public readings of authors' unpublished works. (I couldn't "bookaneer" on-line being used in that way.) Copyright laws appear to have been a bit iffy back then.

I guess when people talk about how publishing used to be a profession for gentlemen, they don't mean during the nineteenth century.

Even though Dickens died one hundred and thirty-eight years ago, I don't see how someone today can read about the frenzy around his American tour without thinking of J.K. Rowling. In 2145 will people still be talking about her appearance at Carnegie Hall? Will someone living in 2169 write a novel about a "lost" Harry Potter?

Have any writers between Dickens and Rowling received the kind of acclaim they did?

Today's Training Report: I know I said I finished that long bio yesterday, but, really, I finished it today. And I did just one story for the 365 Story Project.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Looking For Adult Books For Younger Readers

I am frequently attracted to adult books with child and YA protagonists. I'm very interested in how books with those kinds of leads end up being published as adult lit versus kidlit or vice versa. I'm also interested in whether or not those adult books could be of interest to nonadult readers. I think it was at Read Roger that I once read that one of a YA librarian's responsibilities is to lead adolescent readers to adult books. I'm certainly not a YA librarian, but I do like the idea of books that will lead kids into the grown-up world. (Because the adult world is such a terrific place and everyone should want to be here, right?)

I recently read two fine adult books with child-ish characters. Oddly enough, they're both books that jump off from older works. (This isn't all that odd, because I like those kinds of books. It's a little bit odd that I happened to read one right after the other.)

In the first, The Dead Father's Club by Matt Haig, poor eleven-year-old Philip Noble is haunted by his dead dad who insists that Uncle Alan did him in because he wanted the pub and Philip's mum. In order to save dad from an afterlife with something called the Terrors, Philip needs to avenge his death by killing Uncle Alan. Very good book that I would have enjoyed much, much more if I knew more about Hamlet, upon which it is based. I'm not even sure I've ever read the original source material, though I did realize that Philip's fish being named Gertrude is a joke.

The second book, The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King, was recommended just a couple of weeks ago by Jen Robinson. The beekeeper of the title is Sherlock Holmes. His apprentice is Mary Russell, a young woman in her late teens with whom he develops an intense father/child relationship.

Both these books could be of interest to YAs, though maybe to older, more sophisticated readers--and not because young Philip is always going on about mum getting sex from Uncle Alan and the questions that are raised in The Beekeeper's Apprentice about Holmes' willingness to disguise himself in women's evening gowns and the content of the photograph of him at a Turkish bath. Voice, theme, point of view, and some other stuff I'm interested in discussing with a captive audience as well as some subjects I may not have thought of yet, should all be considered when determining which audience is most likely to go for a particular title.

So over the next few days, Gail is going to make like Mary Russell at Oxford and do a little study of these two books and how they could engage teen readers. You have been warned.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Vacation Reading: Book Three, Another Kind Of Fantasy

While I've done my fair share of reading of Jane Austen, favoring Pride and Prejudice like so many other readers, I can't say I get the love for Mr. Darcy that I'm always hearing about. Sure, I enjoy the I hate you, I hate you, I love you relationship between the P&P male and female leads, a formula that Austen may have created. But, seriously, Darcy doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun to live with to me, I don't care how many wet shirt scenes actors do while playing him. (Did anyone else think Pandering to the audience while watching that? Did anyone else think about how exploitative that scene--which does not appear in the book--would have been if it had involved a woman instead of a man? Nah, I guess not.)

I'm not all that interested in the romances Jane Austen wrote about. They're sort of beside the point to me. I'm interested in her. I like the sharpness of her observations, and the world she creates in her books. I like the way she makes me feel that there have always been women who stepped to another drummer.

All this build-up is to explain why I felt some reservations about sitting down to read Austenland by Shannon Hale, as my third vacation book. I've liked some of Hale's work, but other things I found "girly". Fairy-tale-like fantasies seem to be her turf, and though she often gave them a bit of a feminist, "girl-power" spin, they still seemed very "girly" for my taste.

But my attitude toward her work changed after reading Austenland, her adult novel about thirty-something Jane, a Pride and Prejudice junky who can't find happiness in love because of her obsession with Mr. Darcy. Now I see Hale as someone who is, indeed, attracted to what might be called fairy tale fantasies but who also looks at them and goes, "Oh, come on!"

For instance, Jane in Austenland inherits a week at what might be described as a very high class Jane Austen theme park--Austenland. Well-heeled women with Austen fantasies dress up in early nineteenth century fashions and live with Austen re-enactors, a number of whom are handsome men who develop Austen-like romantic relationships with the often middle aged clientele.

But unless this feminist of a certain age was reading too much into this tale, Hale doesn't just lay out a light-hearted romantic comedy here. She also raises the question of whether or not fictional romances have left many women readers disappointed in real men. (I know--there's a joke in here somewhere about real men actually being disappointing.) Her main character certainly comes to recognize the flaws in a real-life Mr. Darcy. Hale also points out how mind numbing life must have been for upper class women in Austen's world. All the early nineteenth century stock romantic novel characters end up disappointing. In fact, the guy who is playing Mr. Darcy only becomes interesting when he's not playing him, anymore.

I found the weakest part of this book to be the main character, Jane. She seemed wishy washy, always changing her mind about what she hoped to get from her Austenland experience, and never being very clear about any of her thinking. But she didn't matter to me, anyway. What I liked about Austenland was the sharpness of the observations and the world within the world. It was an interesting book from someone I now consider to be an interesting writer.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Is Culture Destiny?

Mitali Perkins has some interesting thoughts about Kazuo Ishiguro, author of Alex Award winner Never Let Me Go.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Serious Adult Fare For Teen Readers

Interested in books that could help YAs make the jump to adult mainstream literature? You might want to take a look at at American Youth by Phil LaMarche.

Setting, both in time and place, is extremely important in American Youth. Teddy LeClare's family is part of a rural, hunting culture that feels itself being pushed out in the '80s by newcomers who are creating and moving into developments on property the locals once hunted and roamed on. Teddy's mother definitely feels that these people are different, not like her and her family. Complicating matters is an economic downturn that's left developments unfinished and meant that a lot of people have had to put their houses up for sale--for what good that does them.

At the beginning of the book, Teddy, who is about to start ninth grade at a regional high school, invites a couple of these new kids into his home. When these brothers find his place boring, he agrees to show them his gun, one of a number in the LeClare house, and even loads it when they ask him to. Teddy has been brought up by gun people. He knows never to point a gun, loaded or unloaded, at a human being. (I remember learning that, too.) But these new kids weren't brought up around guns. And when Teddy steps out of the room, one brother points the gun at the other and kills him.

This is a tragedy, of course. What elevates it to a nightmare is Mrs. LeClare's insistence that her son Teddy not tell anyone he loaded the gun. In the world in which she grew up, her only child did nothing wrong. But in the world that is being imposed on her by these newcomers, she fears the family will be held responsible for the accident and made to pay dearly.

The misery and guilt Teddy feels is compounded by the guilt over the lie and worry over whether or not he'll be caught, since his story conflicts with that of the surviving brother. He's ripe for the picking when a gang calling itself American Youth approaches him. Claiming to support "American" values and the rights of the individual over federal intrusion, the members are sympathetic to Teddy's plight.

At first.

One of the strengths of this book is that it isn't an anti-gun rant. It's not an apology for gun use, either. The gun owners are not romanticized, certainly, but treated with respect. This is a portrayal of a culture, a slice of life.

In terms of YA readers, American Youth is both familiar and unique. Most readers will be able to identify with the teenager struggling to get along, the clique (in this case a gang), and the problems with parents. What's unique is the setting, the culture within which the story takes place. I don't think there are a lot of YA books that go much beyond YA culture. This adult book does. It places what's going on in this poor boy's life within the bigger society. That may be what makes it an adult book instead of YA.

American Youth is well written, but not in a flashy way. There is no wise-ass YA voice, which can become very cliched when it isn't well done. There definitely is no humor. This is a dark tale about a dark period in a young person's life.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

So Why Isn't This YA?

Sherman Alexie has a YA book coming out in September that is being chatted up in some circles. That's all I know on that subject.

However, Alexie's book Flight came out in April, and I do know that it's just wonderful. And it seems darn close to YA to me.

At the beginning of the story, Flight's fifteen-year-old main character is angst-ridden for very good reasons. He falls in with bad company and ends up dead. Then he starts traveling through time, always (well, with one exception) ending up in some confrontation between Native Americans and whites. Sometimes he's in the body of a white character, sometimes he's in the body of a Native American. (Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, uses the term Indian in the book and at his website.) In almost every case, someone is trying to force him to commit a violent act.

The book involves a young character who is definitely in search of self. It also takes acne seriously, which we tend to think of as the curse of the adolescent. Don't laugh. The book doesn't make light of it.

Why wasn't this published as YA? Because Alexie was publishing another YA book this year?

Sometimes I'm embarrassed by my need for novelty. I like YA, but sometimes you do see a lot of similar material published in that genre. For instance, you get your boarding school with a dead character books. You get your Holden Caulfield books. You get your girls with posse books. You get your books in the form of diaries.

While I was reading Flight, I was so excited because, at least as far as I was concerned, this was new ground.

Here's the positive aspect of publishing Flight for adults. Maybe that way it has the potential to become a cross-over book like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

"I Did Not Pan Out"

Home Land by Sam Lipsyte is never going to make one of those Bests Books for Young Adults lists. For one thing, the main character isn't a young adult but a thirty-something.

For another, while the classic theme for young adult novels is "Who am I?" or "Who am I going to be?" the theme of Home Land is "Life sucks and then you die." (Which might be said to be a classic theme of thirty-something novels.)

And, finally, some critics claim that young adult novels must also carry a message of hope. For instance, young men reading King Dork-type books may leave the experience hoping that young women they barely know will offer to perform sexual acts for them. Young women reading The Gossip Girl and her many copiers may be left with the hope that one day they, too, can be nasty bitches with lots of expensive stuff. The message of Home Land is that, nah, none of that stuff is going to happen. And if it does, it's going to be seriously disappointing.

But in a weird, twisted way Home Land is sort of the next, logical step for readers of YA. It has an outsider, first-person narrator writing about high school and what happens after high school. It's like YA but older and with lots more drugs and unwholesome sex.

Just how much of an outsider is the adult Lewis Miner? This poor, miserable guy lives on his own only because his mother is dead so he can't live with her. He spends his free time (of which he has quite a bit because he rarely works) writing updates for his high school alumni newsletter. None of these are ever published for what might be called obvious reasons. But he covers all the classic high school stereotypes and what became of them after they headed out into the real world. None of it's pretty. No one comes to a good end.

Which makes a great deal of sense. Have you ever thought of what will become of those girls in the rich-girls-gone-bad stories? Or what about those sad boys who just can't catch a break? YA books are filled with these kids, and we finish them thinking that things are going to turn around for them.

But will they?

Home Land is not a quick read. Lipsyte writes with a rich, sophisticated style and a sly wit. His book is heavily populated with characters I couldn't always keep track of--much as I can't keep track of those girls in bitch posses.

Teens probably don't need to be exposed to this kind of stuff. They'll find out about life soon enough on their own. Plus some of the sexual content is what might be described as unsavory. I don't want to be accused of not warning you. But that mystery age group between 18 and, say, 24 might suck this up and say, "Yes! Yes! This is exactly how life is!"

I like reading a book like Home Land once in a while, myself. I can't make a habit of it, though, because my insurance isn't so good that I can afford to stay on anti-depressants for any length of time.


Monday, January 29, 2007

My Kind Of Fairies

Faithful readers of this blog may have picked up on the fact that I cannot abide fairies. I am cringing as I think of them. However, as it turns out, they are far more tolerable when they are drunken Scottish punk rockers.

I am vague on the glories of punk rock, but I find Celtic music to be masses of fiddles and whistles that after a while all begin to sound alike. Surely giving it a punk rock twist as the fairies Heather and Morag are intent on doing in The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar can only be an improvement.

The Good Fairies of New York is what I think of as a Zenny book. In order to enjoy it, you have to give up any need you may have for a strong linear story line and get into the moment. The Good Fairies is told in chunks that meander back and forth among a large number of characters, many of whom are named MacThis or MacThat. Each chunk, though, contains some kind of entertainment, some kind of gem. You just need to give in and enjoy them.

Heather and Morag are in New York after being thrown out of Scotland for blowing their noses on the MacLeod clan's banner. They are both fast friends and bitter enemies, and they separate, each taking up residence with a human who can see them. (I can't remember why. But does it matter? Not a bit.) They wreak havoc throughout the city while trying to bring together Heather's nasty, unattractive young man and Morag's lovely, sickly young woman, which, they hope, will mean they can take possession of the young man's fiddle because...

Well, that's a lot less important than the fact that neither Heather nor Morag knows the other fairy is plotting to bring the humans together.

Then there are the Marxist fairies in Cornwall plotting to bring down the English fairy king. And the bag lady who thinks she's a military figure from Greek history. And the advertisements for phone sex that keep turning up on the TV.

Because the plot rambles so, there's not a strong narrative drive that will make readers call in sick to work so they can stay home to read more and see what's going to happen next. On the other hand, nearly every page holds some kind of delight. (And, especially in the second half of the book, many of those pages contain some kind of copy error. Millar's copy editor failed him badly.)

In short, The Good Fairies of New York is a light, pleasant but edgie read for people who don't take their fantasy too seriously.

The Good Fairies of New York was nominated for a Cybil last fall, though it was published as an adult book. Since at that point the award didn't have a policy regarding whether or not adult books would be considered (something I think should be decided one way or another before next year), it was part of our reading list. While the fairies in The Good Fairies are into sexual activity and drinking, and then there's those quite graphic phone sex advertisments, those aren't the main reasons I wouldn't consider the book a strong contender as a YA book.

Generally speaking, I think that in order for an adult book to make the cut as a "recommended" book for YA it should have YA characters. The human characters in The Good Fairies of New York appear to be twenty- or thirty-somethings. It should also have YA themes. Say, something along the lines of separating one's self from family or determining identity. The theme for the adult characters in The Good Fairies of New York would be closer to "Here I am, engaged in my life, and it sucks. A big disappointment." I don't think that's a bad theme, by the way. It's just more a theme for books about twenty and thirty year olds than it is for books about teenagers.

Older teens, the kind who are more into rock than fairies, may enjoy The Good Fairies of New York the way they might enjoy any adult book. It probably shouldn't be shelved in the YA section, though.

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