Round I, Bracket X: Blood Water Paint vs. An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

A debut novel based on the true story of the iconic painter, Artemisia Gentileschi.

Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.

I will show you
what a woman can do

Blood Water Paint is the story of a young woman fighting for her right to be heard.  Artemisia Gentileschi—an Italian painter who lived from 1593 to c. 1656—has been working for her father since her mother died, making paints and also secretly doing the bulk of the artistic work for which her father takes credit.  When Artemisia is raped in her own home by a respected male painter, she finds her family, community members, and judicial system unsupportive. Yet she chooses to endure a brutal and unjust trial in order to shed light on the crime.

Blood Water Paint is, on an emotional level, hard to read.  Yet it compels the reader forward with its heartbreaking honesty.  The novel is a bleak portrayal of the harsh realities of life for a woman in 17th century Italy–and, by extension, of life for oppressed women throughout history.  Artemisia’s strength, however, lends it a sense of hope.

McCullough’s words paint a picture worthy of the Baroque art that dominates Artemisia’s world.  Though this is a novel in verse, the language is so lush that the pages feel full. Interspersed throughout are brief prose segments of Old Testament stories told to Artemisia by her deceased mother, which shed light on Artemisia’s artistic inspiration and her feminist spirit.  As the injustices done to Artemisia multiply, the story careens toward an ending that the reader will be eager to meet even though it is far from guaranteed to be a happy one.

I only had one reservation about this book, and that is finding its audience.  It’s gritty realistic historical fiction in 17th century Rome, written in ornate verse.  There is no action, humor, or romance—common elements that draw teen readers.  Most notably, the book forces its reader to confront the realities of rape, violence, and the systematic oppression of women.  This is extremely important reading, but it is not “fun” reading. That limits its audience among high schoolers managing to squeeze in some free reading time between school assignments.  Teens who read this will find this book engaging and eviscerating, and will come out of it better people. The trick will be incentivizing them to start reading it in the first place. It would be perfect for a book discussion, book report, or literature circle.

Recommended For:

Library staff should hand-sell this to readers they feel are ready for complex texts that will challenge them to think about big and uncomfortable issues.  It’s a great choice for “smart young feminists” (to lift a line from my mentor Becca Boland.) Due to the content, it is appropriate to give potential readers a trigger warning.  The book may reach more readers if it’s promoted to teachers and to students working on school reading assignments. Once they decide to read it, it is likely to enthrall most readers with the reading and comprehension level to appreciate its depth and beauty.

The Minister’s Daughter by Julie Hearn
Da Vinci’s Tiger by Laura Elliott
The Smile by Donna Jo Napoli

An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason by Virginia Boecker

When Lady Katherine’s father is killed for being an illegally practicing Catholic, she discovers treason wasn’t the only secret he’s been hiding: he was also involved in a murder plot against the reigning Queen Elizabeth I. With nothing left to lose, Katherine disguises herself as a boy and travels to London to fulfill her father’s mission, and to take it one step further–kill the queen herself.

Katherine’s opportunity comes in the form of William Shakespeare’s newest play, which is to be performed in front of Her Majesty. But what she doesn’t know is that the play is not just a play–it’s a plot to root out insurrectionists and destroy the rebellion once and for all.

The mastermind behind this ruse is Toby Ellis, a young spy for the queen with secrets of his own. When Toby and Katherine are cast opposite each other as the play’s leads, they find themselves inexplicably drawn to one another. But the closer they grow, the more precarious their positions become. And soon they learn that star-crossed love, mistaken identity, and betrayal are far more dangerous off the stage than on

In the year 1601, Lady Katherine Arundell’s father is killed by order of Queen Elizabeth for illegally practicing Catholicism.  As retribution, Katherine travels to London and takes her father’s place in a planned assassination of the queen. Meanwhile, Toby Ellis makes his living as a spy for the Queen, although what he’d really like to do is be a writer.  Toby concocts a plan to draw unknowing Catholic assassins to participate in a performance of the Shakespeare play Twelfth Night in front of the queen, in order to catch them in the act.  Katherine and her cohorts fall for it.  She dresses as a boy called Kit and snags the role of Viola in the play.  (The character of Viola, coincidently, is also a woman who dresses as a man.)  While Kit secretly plots the assassination and Toby secretly plots to foil the assassination, the two of them, not knowing one another is involved, fall in love.

A highlight of this book is its treatment of Toby’s bisexuality.  The trope of a woman dressing as a man and then falling for a man usually involves homosexual erasure: the man likes the disguised woman only as a friend until it is revealed that she is female, then—poof!—it becomes a romantic relationship.  An Assassin’s Guide is more honest: Toby likes both men and women, and is sexually attracted to Kit when he thinks she’s male.  When he finds out she’s female, he has to rearrange his perception of her and decide if he is still interested in her.  Add in the fact that homosexual activity is punishable by death in his society, and the drama escalates. It’s intriguing, and addressing it affirms the bisexual identity.

The relationship between Kit and Toby is what keeps the plot moving forward.  The pacing is a bit uneven at times, and it is surprisingly light on action for a novel about spies and assassins.  The story particularly loses steam near the end, with a too-long climax and a too-short denouement. Throughout the story Katherine gains a great deal of agency, but the ending doesn’t do justice to her character growth up to that point.  The story takes place almost entirely in a London that feels rough-and-tumble, but also a little magical. It’s historical fiction that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the result is a modern flair. Though the plot has its weaknesses, it’s made up for by strong world-building and woven-in social commentary on gender, sexuality, and religion.

Recommended For:

Fans of romance, especially LGBT romance, will find plenty to swoon over in An Assassin’s Guide.  Fans of Shakespeare and Elizabethan England will undoubtedly enjoy Boecker’s take on this era, and on the characters of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth themselves.  A few f-words and some sexual situations may turn off those sensitive to mature content. Overall, the book is fun and different, and should please avid readers looking for something fresh.  At the same time, it resembles our modern reality enough that casual readers should be able to easily jump in.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, & Jodi Meadows

The Winner: Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Reading an emotionally challenging title like Blood Water Paint is an exercise in compassion and understanding. Books like this draw attention to issues—in this case, rape and oppression of women—that a reader may feel uncomfortable thinking about, but that deserve deep reflection.  But despite causing discomfort, the book draws the reader in. It manages to be painful and enthralling and elucidating toward important societal and humanitarian issues all at the same time, and that is nothing short of a marvel.

An Assassin’s Guide to Love and Treason is fresh and fun.  It has its flaws, but overall, it’s a blast to read.  I can think of many teens who would like it. Figuring out who to recommend Blood Water Paint to is a more complex and difficult question.  Yet Blood Water Paint is sure to affect the reader on a deeper and more powerful level than An Assassin’s Guide.  In this case, I felt compelled to place quality over mass appeal.  An Assassin’s Guide is fun, but it is one of many fun YA books.  Blood Water Paint is gripping, horrifying, and inspiring.  It pushes its reader to see the darkest side of humanity, and makes us feel the devastating results along with Artemisia.  You close the book breathless, enlightened, and ready to stand up to injustice. Blood Water Paint is a book that, once read, will remain with the reader forever.

Kylie Peters is the Middle School Services Librarian at Geneva Public Library. She is passionate about building relationships and community, social justice, comics, middle school literature, gaming, technology, and reader’s advisory. She writes about middle school literature at

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Round I, Bracket IX: Dread Nation vs. Give Me Some Truth

Give Me Some Truth by Eric Gansworth

Carson Mastick is entering his senior year of high school and desperate to make his mark, on the reservation and off. A rock band — and winning the local Battle of the Bands, with its first prize of a trip to New York City — is his best shot. But things keep getting in the way. Small matters like the lack of an actual band, or the fact that his brother just got shot confronting the racist owner of a local restaurant.

Maggi Bokoni has just moved back to the reservation from the city with her family. She’s dying to stop making the same traditional artwork her family sells to tourists (conceptual stuff is cooler), stop feeling out of place in her new (old) home, and stop being treated like a child. She might like to fall in love for the first time too.

Carson and Maggi — along with their friend Lewis — will navigate loud protests, even louder music, and first love in this novel about coming together in a world defined by difference.

The culture of the reservation, as well as the view from people outside of the reservation, is well developed. Gansworth does a great job of showing the tension between those who live on the reservation and those who do not. And even a tug at life after high school and the possibility of leaving the reservation, and what that would mean to our characters is evident. There was a strong tie to the Beatles, specifically with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. The characters were a little flat in that they had one defining characteristic and not much growth outside of this. Told through multiple perspectives, we follow a teen obsessed with creating a band with the hope of winning a battle of the bands and leaving the reservation for New York, and a teen coming back to the reservation after having been gone for years who enters into a taboo relationship with an older man. There are several storylines to follow, so there’s a little something for everyone.

Recommend this book to: teens interested in forbidden or taboo romance, teens interested in music, and those wanting a book with more character-driven scenarios

Read-a-likes: The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos, Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie, and This is What it Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

This book is filled with action and tension. Right from the beginning we’re brought into this alternative fictional reality. There are hints of an asexual character, as well as a bisexual character, which I hope will be developed more in the coming installments. The snippets of correspondence between our main character and her mother at the start of each chapter is an interesting juxtaposition to the current events; it’s almost like a separate story on it’s own that is later merged with our ongoing timeline. The zombies in this story have a different take than your typical zombie story; the recent zombies can move faster than those who have been a zombie for longer, which definitely makes sense. I also found it the different tests scientists were doing to try and create a cure to be interesting. The depiction of passing as white was done very well, and it was interesting to compare the tests done to black characters to tests done to black people in real life.On the surface, this book is all action and zombies, and a pinch of horror. A little bit deeper this book goes into race relations, sexuality, power dynamics, politics, and so much more.

Recommend this book to: teens interested in action, teens interested in historical fiction, and those interested in horror a la zombies

Read-a-likes: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist, and Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac

The Winner: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation is set at a faster pace and keeps the reader wanting more. Give Me Some Truth glossed over some potentially interesting subtopics and didn’t dive wholeheartedly into one storyline, keeping the reader at an arm’s length from any connection. While Give Me Some Truth is a slice of life type of read, and often times slower, Dread Nation has very specific goals and plot line to keep the ball rolling. Give Me Some Truth also had a couple taboo relationships featured, one of which a female of 15 is dating a male in this 30s. While problematic, this could have been a great teaching moment; however, the reader really only walks away with the idea that it’s illegal, and probably fine that he is racist toward other Native Americans. Dread Nation  was a book that was hard to put down and kept me to read just one more chapter… just one more chapter.

Megan is a Teen Services Advisor at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. When she isn’t at work, she’s either studying for her MLIS through the University of Alabama, binge-watching Netflix, eating pizza, or pretending to be super fit at the gym.

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It’s all about Teen Lit! Banned Books Week September 27- October 3

banned book week new image

Banned Books Week 2015 (September 27 to October 3) is highlighting books written for teens. Teen literature because it realistically confronts serious issues dominates the most challenged lists of literature.
Area Teen Librarians are participating in Banned Books by displays and programs. At the Oak Park Public Library Rachael Bild is having teen volunteers research why a teen book is challenged, wrapping the book in brown paper, writing the reason on the cover and promoting “Blind Date with a Banned Book”. Rachael has found that talking about the freedom to read with the teen volunteers has been an invigorating process.
Trixie Dantis at the Arlington Heights Library is doing the Banned Book Blind Date but as a program. Books will be wrapped and numbered with the genre and reason they were banned on the outside. Teens will get 30 seconds to “speed date” the book before passing it on to the next person. The teens will write down the numbers and in the end check out the books. Teens can’t unwrap the books unless they’re checking it out.
At Zion-Benton Public Library Dawn Abron is hosting a Don’t Read John Green Party. The teens will celebrate Banned Books Week with An Abundance of Quotes (Make Quote Art), Looking for Bufritos (Eat Fried Burritos), The Fault in Our Vinyls (Make a Phone Skin out of Vinyl) and Paper Kahoots (Play John Green Kahoot trivia). Teens will enter the Vlogteen Confessional to win John Green prizes. Four John Green titles are on the Most Challenged Banned Books List.
Niles Library teens are celebrating their freedom to read by visiting the Banned Book Display in the Teen Underground. A discarded work of literature has been shredded and the teen are guessing what title is the shredded book from a ballot list of 15 top teen challenged titles.
First of all teens are amazed that the library shredded a book. After carefully explaining that the book was water damaged and had to be discarded, the teens begin to read why each teen book has been challenged. This leads to discussion about certain books and an informal book discussion begins. The books also seem to disappear quickly from the display. What is most evident is that these titles have been read and show the effects of multiple check-outs.

Teen Tournament of Books 2015@Niles Library

graphic teen tournament of books

At ALA Midwinter 2015, eight members of the Niles Teen Advisory Board were selected to participate in the Best Fiction for Young Adults Session on Saturday January 31, 2015 along with other lucky teens from Chicago area libraries. As a qualifying element to participate, teens posted reviews of books on the BFYA list to the Niles website. Some of the teens had also participated in the BFYA session in ALA Conference in Chicago in 2013 so the teen librarians had many excited motivated readers who wanted to join the team. All the teens were superstars at the ALA Midwinter session with their presentation and reading. After the fun of the  presentation with excitement high the idea was presented to the Niles team to initiate a Niles Teen Tournament of Books for National Literature Day in April. The teens had read and reviewed a great number of books for their participation  at ALA so they had a head start on reading and reviewing. At the March Teen Advisory Board meeting books were picked and judges assigned. Teens in  high schools in our district were contacted and other teens joined the members of the Teen Advisory Board.

Eleven teens volunteered for the tournament and twelve books from the BYFA list were chosen. Each teen judge read and reviewed two books and then picked their choice to go on to the next round of reading and reviewing. Dates for each bracket were assigned but with AP Exams, Spring Break, spring sports, exams and graduation parties the Tournament extended from spring to summer.

In August the complete bracket tournament, reviews and winning book Panic by Lauren Oliver were posted to the Niles Website.

This fall the second Annual Tournament of Books featuring the Abraham Lincoln Award Nominees and Read for a Lifetime Reading Lists will offer more reading fun for Niles teens. The Teen Department recently acquired six Kindle Paperwhites and the complete 2016 Abraham Lincoln Book Award and 2015-2016 Read for a Lifetime Reading lists will be uploaded to the devices. The thirty teens who are signed up for both reading programs along with the over twenty teen advisory board members were contacted to join the tournament. At the September Teen Advisory meeting books and judges will be chosen. This tournament will run from Teen Read Month in October to Teen Literature Day in April – plenty of time to read and review two books. The game plan is to post the Tournament on the Niles Website on Teen Literature Day during National Library Week 2016.

After the Printz…

Books can captivate, bore, or face flinging against the closest wall. This winter take your mind off the weather, lift your spirit and follow the YASF 2015 Tournament of Books.

Since a lot of area teen librarians have never experienced serving on a Printz committee the Young Adult Services Forum of the Illinois Library Association thought it would be fun for teen librarians to express their thoughts on what YA book merits the title BEST.Last year fifteen librarians participated in the 2014 YASF Tournament of Books voiced their opinions on the merits of 16 books and picked Out of the Easy by Ruta Septys.

The 16 books for the 2015 list were chosen from a list of 36 nominated titles from YASF members and were ranked according to starred reviews.

Bring out the Trumpets!!!  Announcing the 2015 YASF Tournament of Books List:

• 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
• Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
• Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire
• Gabi: a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
• Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King
• Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
• Guy in Real Life by Steven Brezenoff
• I’ll Give you the Sun by Jandy Nelson
• Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
• Noggin by John Corey Whaley
• This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki
• Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
• Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer
• We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
• Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkowski
• Young Elites by Marie Lu

Joined by a star cast of librarian judges:

• Dawn Abron, Zion Benton Public Library
• Caitlin Bergan, McHenry Public Library
• Rachel Bild, Oak Park Public Library
• Donna Block, Niles Public Library
• Kris Buican, Gemini Junior High School
• Sarah Burkard, Deerfield Public Library
• Veronica Defazio, Plainfield Public Library
• Caitlin Greener, Niles North High School
• Jennifer Hovanec, Deerfield Public Library
• Anne Jamieson, Deerfield Public Library
• Jennifer Jazwinski, Algonquin Public Library
• Elise Martinez, Zion Benton Public Library
• Alea Perez, Hinsdale Public Library
• Brandi Smits, Lansing Public Library
• Kim Zahrobsky, Elmwood Park Public Library

The first round reviews are due Wednesday, February 11, second round on Wednesday February 25, third round on Wednesday March 11 and fourth round on Wednesday March 25. The winning book will be announced Thursday March 26. All reviews will appear on this blog.The plan is for the winning author to visit YA day at A Library State of Mind Conference on Saturday October 24, 2015.