Round One: Guy in Real Life vs. 100 Sideways Miles

Guy is Real Life features alternating first person narratives between Lesh, a trench-coat wearing punk guy who gets sucked into playing a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG, or MMO) and Svetlana, a willowy hippie girl who is the dungeon master for a tabletop role-playing game. Their lives collide quite literally when she wings him while on her bicycle, and they both expect that will be their last interaction.

After he’s grounded for the shenanigans that led him to be in the path of Svetlana’s bicycle, Lesh’s friend convinces him to sign up for a MMO. Half-hearted about playing an orc with his friend, Lesh remembers the hot girl he’d run into and creates a second character that looks like her and uses a variant of her name.guy in real life

Their lives intertwine as they find themselves in the same lunch period, and as Lesh gets to know her, he realizes how different she is than the idealized character he’d made on the game, but he also realizes that he likes the experience of imagining himself in a woman’s role, and he likes the attention he gets from the other gamers. His reconciling his attraction to the real girl and his exploration into who girls get to be in this culture is by far the most interesting aspect of the book.

Their voices are fairly distinct and authentic, definitely a high point. It’s not a fast-paced book, but the alternating narratives help it move along. The exploration of gender roles and expectations makes this one worth a second look. Though Lesh is not gay (though he wonders briefly about it) and he’s not becoming a transvestite (though he wonders a little more about that), he still confronts some of the plusses and minuses of being labeled a “girl” in this culture, and he comes out a different person because of it.

One of the fallacies of the book is that there’s not a lot chances for social overlap between Svetlana and Lesh before they make an effort, but I don’t think that’s true. I am a gamer, and most of the gamers I know who play tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons also enjoy computer and console gaming. I also know a fair number of gamers who were or are into grunge, punk, and all things gothic. I suppose some people make anything into a social distinction, but this is something that doesn’t match up to my experience of the subculture at all. It lessened my enjoyment of the book, but I think its handling of other issues more than makes up for it.

For 100 Sideways Miles, my first recommendation to anyone even thinking about reading it is to skip the front cover flap. Over 50% of the events listed in the hook on the front flap don’t happen until after page 200, and it doesn’t do justice the book’s strengths. The book is light on plot with not much to write in a traditional summary, rather the story is about self-discovery and coming of age in a hundred little ways, often with a hilarious edge to it.

Flynn is epileptic as the result of an injury he sustained while he was seven, and though he’s recovered well, he feels like the epilepsy limits how those around him see him, particularly his father. Flynn’s father is a misanthropic author who had one hugely successful book: an apocalyptic science fiction featuring characters that are very much taken from Flynn’s life after the accident. The publicity that the book generated leaves Flynn feeling trapped within that portrayal. The bulk of the action is the everyday progression of incidents that leads Flynn to discover that he’s not limited by what people think of him, that he’s more than how he’s portrayed in his father’s book, and tha100 sideways milest his future is his to decide.

The characters are a delight. Flynn’s best friend is the most inappropriate guy in their class (there’s one in every class) and provides most of the humor and profanity in the book. Flynn’s love interest, Julia, has her own quirks and issues that are portrayed well. Flynn’s father was my favorite character from the book – he has his own understated humor, and most interestingly, he had his own issues about coming to terms with Flynn’s disability. Flynn himself is a compelling narrator. He’s a fairly literal guy, which it is suggested is a side effect of the accident, but Smith did not get most of the other details of epilepsy right. Flynn does a lot of things that an epileptic really should not do. The most glaring example is the several times that Flynn swimming is a plot point. It seems like Smith was selective about what aspects of the disorder that he wanted to include, and they only crop up in the plot when it’s convenient, disappearing the rest of the time into a generic feeling of not belonging.

At the start of the book, Smith writes in a more stream of consciousness narrative, with many tangents and side scenes that all eventually do add up to a point. While being more true to actual trains of thought and courses of conversations, it was a little disconcerting. Making it an even more questionable stylistic choice, the narration style only lasted a few chapters before becoming much more linear for the rest of the book.  It might have been more of a plus if he had been more deliberate with it; as it is, it seems like a half-hearted stunt to get attention early on in the book.

So, the verdict: They both have strong characters and voices. They both have plausible enough realistic fiction plots. Both have some sexual sparks but deliberate choices for no actual sex. Both have a sense of humor without being just a funny book. 100 Sideways Miles, however, wishes it was Catcher in the Rye and falls short, while Guy in Real Life at least brings up interesting and timely questions of masculinity and how men are and are not allowed to express themselves in our society.

Guy in Real Life, For the Win!


Let’s Celebrate Teen Literature Day, April 17, 2014 by praising and giving thanks for the wonderful work of The Abraham Lincoln Award and the Read for a Lifetime Reading Program committees. Illinois teen librarians are so fortunate in having two lists that promote reading for high school students. At Niles Public Library, these lists are crafted into colorful brochures each spring. This allows time for recruiting new readers for both programs and also allows time for the high school students to read the four books from each list. Since most titles are also appropriate for seventh and eighth graders the brochures are distributed with Teen Summer Reading logs.

Jeanne Urbanek of the Illinois Secretary of State Office oversees Read for a Lifetime with an excellent website that contains all participation, reporting and annual lists. Here is the “Hot off The Website” 2014-2015 list. Book Selection for the list is done by a 10-12 member Read for a Lifetime Book Club of public and school librarians, teachers, administrators and parents. The first of March each year, the members receive an e-mail requesting their suggestions. Each member sends a list of 25 titles. Jeanne puts all the suggestions together and pulls out the multiple mentions. The multiple mentions comprise the core list. She sends the remaining titles back to the members and they choose 15 titles from that list. This pattern is continued until the final list of 25 titles is attained. The deadline for reading the books is usually in the middle of April. All high school students who read four or more titles from the list receive a certificate from Secretary of State Jesse White. During the first 15 years of the program 17,450 students and 123 adults from more than 500 high schools and public libraries throughout Illinois have read 78,500 books.

The Abraham Lincoln Award committee is under the supervision of the Illinois School Library Media Association Board. The committee also maintains an excellent website with voting and registration information. There is a registration fee to participate in the voting process. All registered librarians and teachers nominate adult, young adult fiction and non-fiction titles in the fall and the nomination committee selects a long list. The reading committee, after reading the nominated books carefully, meets to debate and select the final list of 22 titles. The ABE committee is fortunate to have a high school student reader panel that participates in the selection day process. All titles selected by the students are noted on the yearly list. The deadline for posting votes for the ABE award is March 15th of each year. Here is the 2015 Abraham Lincoln Award List, also hot off the website. In 2014 150 public and school libraries participated in the ABE reading program with a total of 3451 high school voters.

Both lists coordinate well. The Read for a Lifetime list includes more classic and non-fiction titles along with contemporary young adult fiction while the ABE list mostly includes recent popular young adult fiction. There was a rule in the past that all books on the ABE list had to be paperbacks but that has changed in recent years to include hardcover books. The 2014-2015 lists have only two  titles Eleanor & Park and Raven Boys on both lists.

Happy Teen Literature Day to all Illinois Young Adult Librarians!

A Follow Up on Cardboard Tube Wars: How to successfully pull off a cardboard tube battle for tweens and teens in a public library without loss of life or limb.

So earlier I wrote about my weird inspiration for a program, specifically the Cardboard Tube Fighting League. Since that post, the program has been successfully completed in my Library with everyone having fun and no one getting hurt. The program was a great success and good vanquished over evil (at least pretend good vanquished pretend evil based on the sides the kids choose.)

Here’s what you need to pull off a Cardboard Tube Wars Program:

A waiver is handy. There are all kinds of sample waivers for programs on the internet. Find them, use them as a template and make sure your waiver is approved by your Library through whatever your approval process is before you start having parents sign them. I included the rules from the Cardboard Tube Fighting League in my waiver so that parents and participants would have them before the event ever started.

Plan the program for the summer, but start planning for it before Christmas. In November send out an All Staff Email asking for the cardboard tubes from their wrapping paper. You will get all the cardboard tubes you’ll ever need and then some.

Before you advertise the program to the public go through your tubes and try to select the ones that are about an inch and a half to two inches wide and about three feet long. Think of these as being “standard size.” You want the size of the tubes and the thickness of the cardboard for those tubes actually used in combat to be standard for all participants. The point is, after all, to be the last one with a cardboard tube still intact.

If you can, make the program registration required and base the number allowed to participate off the number of standard sized tubes you have.

Make sure in your promotional materials that you state that the tubes will be provided by the Library!

The cardboard tube fight is the apex of the program, but it isn’t the entirety of the program. Before you battle you must have armor. Pre-cut cardboard shields, markers, duct tape, yarn and extra cardboard tubes and cardboard boxes are all perfect for making all kinds of armor including gauntlets and helmets. The armor has the added benefit of identifying which team the kids are going to be one. Let them decorate their tubes in the team colors too. The teams need to be even (because, once again the team with the most intact cardboard tubes is the winner.) So if you have uneven teams, pull in a teen volunteer. In fact, I highly recommend having a teen volunteer help out at this program. Their help is INVALUABLE and then they can jump in to the fray if needed.

Before you allow them to start the battle it helps to read the rules again. Then they are fresh in everyone’s mind. Also before you battle, take lots of pictures. The armor they create will be amazing.

For a reward beyond the satisfaction of having made awesome armor and battled the hardest I got some cheap plastic trophies from a party supply store and a cheap plastic medal. I let the kids battle until it was obvious that one team was the clear winner. Then there was the problem of the fact that there wasn’t just one kid left standing. So I let them battle until only one kid had a tube. It was the largest guy in the room and one of the smallest girls in the end round. The girl was so quick and good at cardboard tube fighting that the guy ended up surrendering and letting her break his tube. She won the medal and a trophy (she was on the winning team too.) Most of the kids took their armor home with them and everyone had a great time.

Celebrate African American History Month



On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker by A’Lelia Perry Bundles

Getting Away With Murder: the True Story of the Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe

Ida B. Wells: Mother of the Civil Rights Movement by Dennis B. Fradin and Judith Bloom Fradin

Black Knights : the Story of the Tuskegee Airmen by Lynn M. Homan and Thomas Reilly

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip House

We Beat the Streets: How a Friendship Pact Helped Us Succeed by Sampson Davis, George Jenkins and Rameck Hunt

Her Dream of Dreams: The Rise and Triumph of Madam C.J. Walker by Beverly Lowry

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

We Are the Ship: the Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Kacks by Rebecca Skloot

Lift Every Voice: the NAACP and the making of the civil rights movement by Patricia Sullivan.

Remember Little Rock: the Time, the People, the Stories by Paul Robert Walker


Zack by William Bell

Mississippi Trial, 1955 by Chris Crowe

Mare’s War by Tanita Davis

Copper Sun by Sharon Draper

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest Gaines

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines

New Boy by Julian Houston

Letters from a Slave Girl: The Story of Harriet Jacobs by Mary E. Lyons

Sunrise over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers

Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons: The Story of Phillis Wheatley by Ann Rinaldi

The Land by Mildred D. Taylor

Only Twice Have I Wished for Heaven by Dawn Turner Trice

After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson