I’m still operating on the same material budget I had when I took on the job as Hartland Public librarian in 2006. I don’t need to tell anyone what inflation has done to book prices, etc. since then. One of the first things I discovered when looking for better ways to build a collection was online swapping sites. The first one was www.bookmooch.com and I soon found another one www.paperbackswap.com. Bookmooch allowed me to list books I wasn’t going to keep or sell so other people all over the world could mooch them. If the moocher was from the U.S. I got one point for every book sent out. If they were from somewhere else in the world, I’d get three points. I quickly discovered it was a great way to get inexpensive replacement copies or fill in series. Even better was the ability to mooch juvenile and young adult titles from Great Britain and Australia (they have some amazing YA authors in Oz). There was the additional satisfaction of helping book lovers in such diverse places as Chernobyl, Tehran and Kuala Lumpur get fiction that wasn’t readily available in their local bookstores.
Paperback Swap had some different benefits. It was a great site for manga, recent young adult fiction and unabridged audio books on CD. After a while, I started to notice that many of the more interesting YA titles I was snagging came from smaller publishing houses and that I could use advanced search techniques on both websites to create and save a search that I could run regularly. Over the past year, I’ve been running searches at least a couple times a week for books published by two lesser known publishing houses that seem to offer extremely good juvenile and young adult fiction on a consistent basis. Because they are small and tend to work with newer (and I might add, extremely promising) authors, the topics covered in their offerings are often edgier and more controversial than mainstream publishers. I mean that as a most sincere compliment because teens and tweens these days face a scary world that’s coming at them faster and with a lot more threats that ever before. We just saw the terribly tragic result of social media gone bad here in Maine and there have been a number of suicides in the U.S. And Canada in the past few months as a result of pictures and harsh words going viral. I’m not saying that fiction with these issues as a part of the main plot is the cure for these problems, but as a librarian, I do know that there are a lot of smart, but not necessarily popular kids out there who do find solace and comfort in reading about fictional characters going through situations similar to ones they face every day. We all know how much of a relief we experience when we discover another person facing the same sadness or fear we’re looking at. There are plenty of kids who get that relief by escaping into a good edgy book these days.
Flux (http://www.fluxnow.com/) is a Minnesota publisher. Maine author Carrie Jones got her start as a Flux author. They published Girl Hero, Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend and Love (and other uses for duct tape). Reading and enjoying these three titles was part of what got me to pay attention to their offerings. In fact, when I started doing the preparation for this blog entry, I spent time looking at their website and in the course of doing so, I saw two more titles that I had to buy. Insomnia by J.R. Johansen was as good, better, probably than the blurb on their site. I’ve just started Beautiful Music For Ugly Children by Kirsten Cronn-Mills. If it’s half as good as her first book The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don’t Care which I read a couple weeks ago, then it’s another book I’ll happily hand to multiple YA readers at the library. I’ll soon be reading The Culling by Steven Dos Santos which could be described as a gay-themed version of the Hunger Games. Flux features the following sub-genres: Fantasy / Paranormal, Female Protagonist, General Fiction, Male Protagonist, Romance, Science Fiction, and Social Issues. Among titles I’ve read and/or added to our library collection that you might find interesting are Lauren Yanofsky hates the holocaust by Leanne Lieberman What we keep is not always what will stay by Amanda Cockrell, The quicksilver faire by Gillian Summers, But I love him by Amanda Grace, Love drugged by James Klise, Evil? by Timothy Carter and A summer of silk moths by Margaret Willey.
The company sums up their mission thusly: “Flux is an imprint dedicated to fiction for teens, where young adult is a point of view, not a reading level. You won’t find condescension or simplification here. You will find comedy, tragedy, ecstasy, pain, discovery – everything you’re likely to find in real life.“
There are two other things worth knowing about Flux. First their books are reasonably priced at $9.00 and from looking at the reviews on Amazon for some of their newest titles, it appears that they’re willing to run with authors who might still be a bit rough, but have serious promise. If the latter is indeed the case, then this makes them pretty special. I’d certainly love to be one of their authors down the road.
Orca Books (http://www.orcabook.com/client/client_pages/landingpage.html), headquartered in Vancouver, BC, handles Canadian authors only. In fact, they pride themselves on finding and promoting Canadian writers. They’re growing constantly and now have about 18 different categories. We have close to 75 Orca titles in our library, mostly from their Orca Soundings category which they describe as: short high-interest novels with contemporary themes, written expressly for teens reading below grade level. These are really good for struggling teens and tweens who really want to read something that has real meat, but can’t handle three hundred pages. Most of the new titles are really edgy, an aspect that I think resonates nicely with teens today. Unlike Flux, Orca titles tend to deal more with real-life issues without much in the way of magic or supernatural overtones. There are currently 98 titles in the Soundings collection.
Other categories relevant to libraries are their Orca Echos titles which are award-winning, bestselling chapter books for ages 7-9. There are 64 in that line-up. Their Orca Young Readers are award-winning, bestselling chapter books for ages 8-11, with 66 titles currently available. Orca Juvenile is described as at-level fiction titles for readers ages 8-13 and has 75 titles currently. The last collection I’ll mention is Teen Fiction which has well-written, engaging novels for teens. Ages 12+. That currently has 96 titles.
Orca has a distribution warehouse in the U.S. and the website features entry points for both U.S. and Canadian buyers. Prices are higher than Flux, ranging between 12-15 dollars. Orca offers a much larger number of titles than Flux and their topics are generally more reality-based like the books in Seven the Series which are about urban teen gang life.
Coming Clean, a recently published title by Jeff Ross deals with a night when things go terribly wrong for wanna-be DJ Rob. He gets his dream wish of being a substitute disc jockey at a night club and knows the girl he has serious hots for will be there. When she overdoses on ecstasy, Rob and brother Adam find themselves on the run from law enforcement. In Damage by Robin Stevenson, Theo meets his childhood babysitter, Ronnie, at the pool. She has Zach, her young son with her and invites Theo to join her on a road trip. It doesn’t take long for Theo to start wondering. Then Ronnis vanishes, leaving Theo to care for Zach and try to figure out what part of Ronnie’s story was real and what wasn’t. Not sorting things out quickly could have disastrous consequences for Theo. These, as you can see, are edgy, relevant and have the sort of plot elements teens, even poor readers, will devour. It might almost be worth moving to Canada if it meant I could have Orca handle my books.
Here’s a more in depth book review I shared on the Maine Library listserv this week about Insomnia. This one also has ‘fish out of water’ elements. High school junior, Parker Chipp is a gifted soccer player who has a very painful and disconcerting secret. For the past four years, he’s found himself in the dreams of the last person he made eye contact with. Most of the time, he gets buffeted by the multiple roiling layers that comprise those dreams and the result is a major case of sleep deprivation, coupled, in many instances, with a visceral reaction to the dreamers afterward. He’s becoming desperate because his brain and body are wearing out. He can’t share his agony with anyone, or at least he doesn’t believe he can, not even his best friend Finn and Finn’s sister Addie who he has some pretty strong feelings for.
Everything changes the night he nearly hits a truck stopped in front of him. The girl who gets out isn’t anyone he’s seen before, but when he falls asleep that night, he finds her dreams are not only restful and calming, they allow him to sleep normally for the first time in ages. How can he find out who she is? This question dominated every waking moment until he sees her at school. Mia is a foster child, living with the family of Jeff, uber popular senior and captain of the soccer team. Parker’s desperate need for sleep turns him into a stalker and freaks Mia out, while causing his friends to wonder whether he’s lost his sanity. In a way he has, because there’s this image of himself, evil through and through, who begins to appear more and more often in his dreams and essentially tells Parker that sooner or later he’ll have total control.
Parker’s in a huge bind. He can’t tell anyone why he’s acting like a lunatic, not even his best friend. Things at home aren’t easy either. His dad vanished several years earlier and his mother, while trying to be a good parent, has to work so many hours, she’s seldom there when he really needs to talk.
How Parker deals with his secret, his alter evil, his attraction to Addie and the search to find out who is sending Mia threatening emails from an account very similar to Parker’s, make for a very gripping read. Toss in a mysterious boy wearing a biker jacket with a blind skull on the back who appears briefly every so often in the school corridor, what happens after Parker finally breaks down and tells Finn and Addie his secret, coupled with a wild ending that almost kills three of the major characters and you have a story that will grab young adult readers very quickly. This is one of those rare first books in a series where enough gets to closure at the end so you don’t feel frustrated waiting for the next installment.
There’s one other teen publisher you may not be familiar with, but that will have to wait for another blog entry.