March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Adult Books 4 Teens | April 2013

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.


School Library Journal starred reviews BEAUMAN , Ned. The Teleportation Accident. 357p. Bloomsbury. Feb. 2013. Tr $25. ISBN 978-1-62040-022-7. LC 2012038374.
Adult/High School
–Beauman’s deliriously complex, tremendously funny second novel follows the travails of Egon Loeser (looks like “loser”; sounds like “lesser”) as he chases a girl named Adele Hitler from Berlin to Paris to Los Angeles. That he is leaving Berlin just as that other A. Hitler is coming to power means nothing to the staunchly (naively, frustratingly) apolitical Loeser, who is much more concerned with mounting a stage production about a 17th-century set designer. Lavicini’s most famous creation was the Teleportation Device, which rearranged sets with frightening speed before ultimately causing an explosion that may or may not have killed Lavicini and several dozen audience members. Loeser wants to re-create Lavicini’s machine for his play, only to find, when he moves to Los Angeles, a physicist there who thinks Lavicini may have actually invented teleportation and wants to re-create that. This fixation on doubling, re-creation, and representation drives the heart of the novel, as Beauman over and over again probes the boundary, and the direction of causation, between signifier and signified. At the same time, Beauman keeps his character’s and his novel’s self-importance in check by constantly confronting them with the specter of politics, in the form of the Nazis and the resolutely unmentioned Holocaust. This is a challenging, thought-provoking, sometimes mind-bending novel, but it is also a hilarious one, and it should be recommended to any teen who can make it through Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 (Harper Perennial, 2006).–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

BENJAMIN , Melanie. The Aviator’s Wife: A Novel. 402p. Delacorte. Feb. 2013. Tr $26.. ISBN 9780345528674.
Adult/High School
–It is 1927, and Anne is home for the holidays in Mexico where her father is the U.S. Ambassador, expecting to relax. But dashing Charles Lindbergh is also visiting. Everyone worships him, Anne included. All of the Morrows expect Anne’s beautiful older sister to interest him, but it is Anne who catches his attention. The two bond during a late night flight and long car rides; it isn’t long before he asks her to marry him. They are revered as “the couple” to follow. They fly airplanes all over the world and have fabulous adventures. Everywhere they go they are courted and admired. The birth of their son, Charles, caps their popularity until one day, at 18 months of age, he is kidnapped, only to be found dead weeks later. Their blessed life is shattered. Searching for solitude, they head to Europe where they meet with world leaders. Examining the growing German air force, Charles becomes enamored with Hitler, until his aggression becomes clearly apparent. Anne and Charles return home determined to serve their country against this threat. But as Charles finds solace in activity, Anne searches inward and devotes herself to raising their children, and to writing. Time, separation, and Charles’s obsessive nature strain their marriage. Told as flashbacks in the style of a memoir, The Aviator’s Wife is a compelling read. Given its memoir format, it is also a challenge to know what is truth and what is fiction. This is the story of a marriage, and teens will gain insight not only into a slice of American history, but also inside the world of two incredibly fascinating people.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

BRADLEY , Alan. Speaking from Among the Bones: A Flavia de Luce Novel. 400p. Delacorte. Jan. 2013. Tr $24. ISBN 978-0-385-34403-6.
Adult/High School
–Flavia de Luce, the brilliant and fearless 11-year-old detective first introduced in  Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Delacorte, 2009), stars in her fifth novel set in 1950s England. Each novel can stand alone, but Flavia fans will savor new details revealed about her family. The de Luce family lives in a rambling but shabby estate that soon may be lost due to Father’s continued financial woes. Flavia’s incredible sleuthing skills and her vast knowledge of chemistry are put to the test once again as she discovers the dead body of the missing church organist. So begins the mystery that involves a diamond, an impressive cast of eccentric characters, and the exhumation of the patron saint of the church. Flavia feels “torn apart from the inside” with the changes that happen to her family and is emotionally confused by the sporadic closeness she feels with her sisters. Bradley’s knack for period detail, his plot twists and turns, and his great humor will charm Flavia fans, mystery readers, and those who love an endearing and cunning heroine. The stunning ending leaves readers wanting more.–Jane Ritter, Mill Valley School District, CA

School Library Journal starred reviews BRODY , Frances. A Medal for Murder: A Kate Shackleton Mystery. 432p. Minotaur. Feb. 2013. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780312622404.
Adult/High School
–Desperate for cases for her fledgling investigating firm, Kate Shackleton takes on an innocuous job involving a fairly petty theft. It takes her to the wealthy community of Harrogate where she stumbles across two more crimes, a murder and a missing person, which–in a neat change-up for the genre–may have less to do with each other than first appears. What all three eventually prove to have in common is a connection with three retired soldiers from the Second Boer War, one of whom has been dead for 20 years, another of whom is the murder victim. Though initially reluctant, Shackleton eventually gets involved in all three cases, with some time set aside for romance with a detective from Scotland Yard. Brody breaks from Shackleton’s first-person narrative to give readers just enough information so as not to fall into the common trap of overwhelming the novel’s ending with exposition. And these separate perspectives help highlight the sensitive portrayal of the devastation of the Boer Wars, and the class and ethnic conflicts it caused both in South Africa and back home in England. With its post-World War I setting and its heroine a former nurse with a lost love, the novel’s similarities to  Winspear’s “Maisie Dobbs” books may be a bit too close for comfort for some readers. But more forgiving readers should realize that the period and themes in question are rich enough to fill several series, and Brody’s elegant prose and attention to gently pushing back at genre conventions make this novel (and series) a more than welcome entry.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

School Library Journal starred reviews BUCHANAN , Cathy Marie. The Painted Girls. 368p. Riverhead . Jan. 2013. Tr $26.95. ISBN 978-1-59448-624-1. LC 2012038433.
Adult/High School
–Told in alternating chapters, beginning in 1878, this is the story of two sisters who are a part of the Paris Opera Ballet. Based on known facts of the van Goethem sisters’ early lives, the novel spans four years, beginning when Antoinette is 17 and Marie is 13. Living in abject poverty with a mother who is never without her bottle of absinthe, Antoinette acts the mother to her sisters (there’s also Charlotte, not yet 8); she longs to be the “shield that keeps them from the harshness of the world.” Things begin to unravel when Antoinette falls for Emile, a hustler and thief who ultimately goes on trial for two murders. Marie, working her way up the ballet ranks, catches not only the eye of Edgar Degas, who hires her as a model for many years, but also a wealthy ballet patron who uses her for his sexual pleasures. The gulf between the sisters grows, and it is after Antoinette’s arrest for theft and during her sentence that she transforms her life and knows she must save Marie, who has stepped through a door to a “ruined life.” The end skips ahead 14 years, and one is left with a lasting impression of sisterly love and redemption. This is a beautifully told and utterly captivating story replete with historical detail, primary-source material, and distinctly drawn characters that will transport readers to Paris in the late 1800s.–Jane Ritter, Mill Valley School District, CA

CELONA , Marjorie. Y. 272p. Free Pr. Jan. 2013. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781451674385.

Adult/High School–This moving debut novel is narrated by Shannon, who was left at the front door of the YMCA in Victoria, B. C., when she was just a few days old. She spends the first five years of her life with various foster families, and then is adopted by a single woman with a daughter about Shannon’s age. As she moves into her teenage years, she finds herself wondering why? Why was she abandoned? Why can’t she quite fit in anywhere? Why does she have crazy blond curls and a lazy eye? Why did one of her foster fathers physically abuse her? Why does her adopted sister ignore her? Shannon’s story is interspersed with the story of another teenager, her mother, Yula, whose life was falling apart just at the moment that Shannon was born. Their stories converge, as Shannon learns the truth, finally meets both of her birth parents, and comes to realize that her own life is not as desperate as she might once have thought. Teens will be drawn into this story of two girls: one who is determined and resourceful, who makes mistakes but never abandons the sense of self that sits at her core; the other who means well but can’t manage to control her own life and allows events to overtake her, resulting in tragedy.–Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County Library, CA

CLARK , Mary Jane. Footprints in the Sand: A Piper Donovan Mystery. 372p. Morrow. Jan. 2013. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062135445. LC 2012041240.
Adult/High School
–Piper Donovan is back to solve another murder with a fabulously implausible connection to a wedding. This time she is the maid of honor at her cousin’s wedding in Florida when one of the bridesmaids turns up dead, followed shortly by an attempted murder on a potential witness, another possibly related murder, and a mysterious suicide. Piper’s attention is divided among her role in the wedding, supporting her cousin; the ever increasing body count; and the impending meeting between her parents and her new boyfriend (conveniently an FBI agent). As in the other Piper Donovan mysteries, Clark keeps the pace lightning fast and the suspense high through exceedingly brief chapters that change perspective among all the major players, including the murderer (though his identity is kept safely secret). Though Clark’s prose can be too utilitarian, with dialogue tending to the expositional, the clockwork precision of her plot can only be admired, and her characters, particularly Piper’s parents, shine through. Clark is not the equal of, say, Alan Bradley, but this novel and the previous one in the series are still excellent recommendations for teen fans of cozy mysteries.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

COADY , Lynn. The Antagonist. 304p. Knopf. Jan. 2013. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780307961358.
Adult/High School
–Finding himself portrayed as a character in a college friend’s novel and feeling deeply misrepresented, Gordon Rankin begins sending Adam a flurry of emails to set the record straight. In order to do so, he must tell the story of his teens, from when puberty turned him into a six-foot-four bruiser at 14 to the incident from college which Adam has written about. Rank’s story, bracketed as it is by two moments of heartbreakingly accidental violence, is one of a man-boy who cannot be comfortable in his oversized body. While this affecting story makes up the primary plot, Coady keeps a tight grip on the frame story, so that the 40-year-old Rank and Adam’s novel are as present as the teenaged Rank and Adam. Many thoughtful writers have pondered the relationship between their fictional characters and the real people upon whom they are based, but Coady stands out for the multiple layers of truth she is able to make evident: even as Rank’s understanding of the complexities of Adam’s position as novelist grows, readers begin to see the holes and omissions in Rank’s own account. Teens will be easily drawn into Rank’s story of drugs, violence, and hormones, but they may come away with much more to think about.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy, Vallejo, CA

School Library Journal starred reviews CONKLIN , Tara. The House Girl. 336p. Morrow. Feb. 2013. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062207395; ebook ISBN 9780062207524.
Adult/High School
–Lina Sparrow,  an ambitious young attorney assigned to a slavery reparations case, is tasked with finding the right lead plaintiff to bring action against corporations that benefitted from slave labor. Lina’s artist father points out a possibility rooted in a controversy currently brewing in the art world: many art historians believe a house slave named Josephine is really responsible for the beautiful, sensitive portraits of slaves that have been credited to Lu Anne Bell, Josephine’s “missus.” A descendant of Josephine’s could be the person the lawsuit needs to demonstrate the lasting negative effects of past wrongs. Told in sections alternating between Lina’s and Josephine’s stories, Conklin does a brilliant job of crafting the plot, artfully building links between Lina’s case and Josephine’s life. Her description of Lina’s work to build the case examines the long-term harm of slavery in a fresh and analytical way. She uses a critical eye in examining self service disguised as public service and handles complex issues of race deftly. Although there is no fair comparison between the lives of a well-paid attorney and a house slave, Lina’s growth in the face of uncovered deception in her own life in some ways parallels Josephine’s heroic decisions, limited as her options may have been. Teens will be drawn in by the exploration of familial relationships, questionable decisions made in the interest of self protection, and facing the difference between wanting the truth and accepting the truth.–Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, CA

DJANIKIAN , Ariel. The Office of Mercy. 320p. Viking. Feb. 2013. Hardcover $26.95. ISBN 9780670025862.
Adult/High School
–In this coming-of-age-after-the apocalypse story, it has been 305 years since the Alphas took control of a deteriorating world by eliminating most of its 59 billion citizens and starting over in high-tech domed underground cities. Natasha lives in America-Five, where she works in the Office of Mercy. Her job is to watch the monitors that scan the Outside and put into practice the values of her society: World Peace, Eternal Life, and All Suffering Ended. To these ends, when the Office of Mercy discovers tribes living outside–remnants of the extra-settlement survivors of what the Alphas call “the Storm”–they grant them mercy by “sweeping” them in order to end their inevitable suffering. The problem is that Natasha has a hard time maintaining the necessary “Wall” in her mind that prevents her from having “Misplaced Empathy” with the tribespeople who are swept. Then one day she is assigned to a team to go Outside to mop up the stragglers from the last sweep. While there, she has an encounter with tribespeople that changes her life and her perceptions about what is true and what is right. Teens will be drawn to this compelling story that goes beyond the typical dystopia by creating a world in which there are no clear distinctions between good and evil. It is a tightly written piece of speculative fiction that poses–but doesn’t answer–questions about the ethics of survival and the far-reaching consequences that one person’s actions can have.–Sarah Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Library, CA

DOBYNS , Stephen. The Burn Palace. 480p. Blue Rider Press. Feb. 2013. Tr $$26.95. ISBN 9780399160875.
Adult/High School
–Brewster, RI, is a small, sleepy town until a baby is stolen from the neonatal unit and replaced with a corn snake. Then a visiting insurance investigator is stabbed and scalped. Soon there are competing police jurisdictions and several widely divergent lines of inquiry, at the heart of which are state troopers Woody and Bobby. How these mysteries are related to “The Burn Palace”–the nickname one of the workers gives to the local crematorium–is only revealed at the end of this wonderfully written book. The characters are well drawn, from Hercel and his “magic tricks” to Baldo and his penchant for practical jokes; from Carl Krause, suffering from lycanthropic schizophrenia, to Nurse Spandex and the many others that Dobyns introduces  as the various, seemingly disparate problems plaguing Brewster start to intertwine. As the two strongest characters, Woody and Bobby, are drawn deeper into the lives of the townspeople, their investigation encompasses the differences between coyotes and coywolves, Wicca and Satanism, and how body parts are harvested. It’s the last that leads to the thread that unravels the entire mystery. Especially interesting is the writing style, which ranges from suspenseful “you are there” passages to chapters reminiscent of the narrator from Our Town’s remote tone. The Burn Palace is a horror/mystery, blending the best of both genres and a perfect read for a dark winter evening.–Laura Pearle, Center for Fiction, New York City

School Library Journal starred reviews MOYES , Jojo. Me Before You. 369p. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Dec. 2012. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9780670026609.
Adult/High School
–Louisa Clark, 26,  lives a sheltered life in a small English village. She still lives with her working-class family in a cramped house. She’s had the same mundane job for six years, and mediocre boyfriend for seven. But when the tea shop she works at abruptly shutters, Lou’s comfortable routine is gone, along with the earnings her family depends on. Applying for a position as a caregiver for a disabled man, she expects an elderly patient. What she finds instead is handsome, 30-something Will Traynor, former firm partner, world traveler, and bon vivant, left a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic following a devastating accident. Sarcastic and indifferent, Will has little interest in spending time with talkative, earnest Lou. He’s trapped inside a body that requires constant, intrusive medical care just to keep him alive. And at this point, he’s convinced that it’s not a life worth living. Lou’s broken in a different way, psychologically scarred by an event she’s never discussed. Moyes does a masterful job at slowly building a relationship between Will and Lou that transcends that of caretaker and patient,as the two get to know and appreciate one another, each expanding the other’s world. As they begin to fall in love, Lou becomes ever more determined to give Will reason to embrace life as it is. Me Before You is a spectacular, unconventional love story to savor, with well-developed, relatable characters. Give this dialogue-driven tearjerker to teens who enjoyed John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton, 2012) or Matthew Quick’s The Silver Linings Playbook (Farrar, 2008).–Paula J. Gallagher, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

SHORT , Sharon. My One Square Inch of Alaska. 336p. Plume: Penguin Group (USA). Feb. 2013. pap. $16. ISBN 9780452298767.
Adult/High School
–In September 1953, Donna Lane has little idea of the twists and turns her senior year will hold. She’s been doing her best to take care of her 10-year-old brother Will, working to help support her family, and put a little away so she can move to New York after graduation. Their mother died of cancer several years before, and their father is largely absent or drinking. Will is a good kid whose goal in life is to finish 10 boxes of Marvel Puffs cereal so he can enter and win the contest for a deed to “One Square Inch of Alaska.” But, as elderly MayJune says, “the biggest turns in life come when you’re paying the least attention, making small choices you don’t yet know will change everything.” Donna allows her brother to take breakfast leftovers to Trusty, an abused dog chained up across town. She agrees to skip school with her best friend, Babs, thereby meeting Jimmy–the wealthy son of the town’s mill owner. And she applies to sit as a model for her art teacher to earn extra money. What begins as a rather lighthearted, straightforward coming-of-age novel gains a deeper edge when Donna realizes that she has the talent to pursue fashion design, hears the surprising truth about her mother, and learns that Will’s fainting spells are due to more than poor nutrition. Will kidnaps Trusty following a particularly brutal beating, which sets off a cross-country journey that turns increasingly perilous. One can only wonder why this novel was not published as young adult. An affecting read, appropriate for even the youngest high school audiences.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

PERRY , Thomas. The Boyfriend. 288p. Mysterious Pr.: Grove/Atlantic. Mar. 2013. Tr $25. ISBN 9780802126061.
Adult/High School
–Perry’s latest novel begins as a fairly typical PI-procedural, with ex-police officer Jack Till searching for the killer of a high-end escort.  But as Till quickly realizes that the murder is just one in a series, and just as quickly deduces the reasoning behind the killings, the narrative abruptly switches to the killer himself, where Perry relates not only his identity but much more about his background and psychology than readers ever learn about Till.  From this point, the narrative becomes a cat-and-mouse game between the two as Till chases the killer throughout the country, getting ever closer to him.  Perry’s take on the killer’s perspective is hardly unique, but it is still impressive how much sympathy he is able to generate for a man who is essentially a sociopath.  And though Perry never explicitly endorses a moral equivalence between the two antagonists, readers cannot help but notice certain similarities in their thinking, and especially in their detailed knowledge and love of firearms.  With its casual murder and sex, and hard-boiled take on police work and death, this is a book that evokes some of the grittier Coen Brothers films–a nearly existentialist style that many teens will love.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

ST. JAMES , Simone. An Inquiry into Love and Death. 336p. NAL. Mar. 2013. pap. $14.00. ISBN 978-0-451-23925-9. LC 2012027265.
Adult/High School
–St. James, author of  The Haunting of Maddy Clare (NAL, 2012), returns to that novel’s 1920s ghost-hunting world with a new cast of characters. Jillian Leigh is summoned to a tiny village in Devonshire to identify the body and collect the belongings of her ghost-hunting Uncle Toby, who has died in a seeming accident. She quickly makes the acquaintance of a dashing Scotland Yard detective and together they decide that Toby was murdered and that the ghost he was hunting, the spirit of a centuries-old bootlegger, is real. As Jillian digs deeper, she realizes that she may be at the heart of at least one of these mysteries herself. St. James’s prose can be maddeningly uneven, veering from gorgeous to awkward far too frequently, and her mystery falters a bit near the end, failing to cohere the way readers might hope. Nevertheless, with its historical mystery, romance, cursed ghost, and crumbling vicarage, the novel brings to mind some of the best elements of Elizabeth Fama’s Monstrous Beauty (Farrar, 2012), without the mermaids. And while St. James cannot match Fama’s prose or deftly constructed mystery, her fans should find more than enough to love in this novel.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

WINSPEAR , Jacqueline. Leaving Everything Most Loved. 352p. (Maisie Dobbs Series). Harper . Mar. 2013. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062049605; ebook ISBN 9780062049629. LC 2013000915.
Adult/High School
–Still reeling from the horrible attack on her assistant Billy and her inability to bring a murderer to justice in Elegy for Eddie (HarperCollins, 2012), and unsure of her relationship with too-wealthy James Compton, private investigator Maisie Dobbs wants nothing more than to travel the world and take stock of her life. But when Scotland Yard brings her the case of a murdered Indian governess, whose race and class seem to have caused her case to be mishandled, Maisie must see that justice is done. Meanwhile, as Billy’s head-injury leaves him more and more confused, Maisie also takes on his work, tracking down a missing teen. Against all odds, the cases seem to be connected, and Maisie soon finds herself entangled in loose ends and too many suspects. Winspear handles the intertwined mysteries with all of the grace her fans have come to expect, but the real attraction here is the sensitive portrayal of immigrant life in London in the 1930s. Maisie becomes entranced by the victim and her community and neither she nor  readers can help but contrast them with Maisie’s boyfriend and his powerful business partner, who Maisie knows has gotten away with murder. Though this is the 10th in the “Maisie Dobbs” series, it requires no knowledge of the prior volumes, and indeed Winspear’s fantastically light touch with exposition is one of the novel’s many strengths.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA


FU , Ping & Mei Mei Fox. Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds. 288p. Portfolio Press. Dec. 2012. Tr $27.95. ISBN 978-1-591-84552-2. LC 2012035389.
Adult/High School
–Exiled from her homeland, China, Fu was 25 years old when she landed at a New Mexico airport with no money or connections and nowhere to go. Kidnapped and held hostage in a home with two children whom she is supposed to take care of, she only knew three English words. She yelled one of them–Help!–which brought police to her rescue. At 8, Fu lived a beautiful life in Shanghai until Mao’s Cultural Revolution labeled her family an enemy of the state and she was forcibly taken to live in a trash filled dorm room with a little sister she barely knew. After years of abuse, including a gang rape at age 10 and factory work at age 15, the Revolution wound down and she was able to pursue more independent interests. Her research and writing about China’s One Child policy landed her 4 black marks, which effectively sealed her fate as an enemy of the state. Fu ultimately became highly successful in America; she was part of the team that created Netscape and CEO of her own company. The book alternates chapters about her childhood in China with those about her time in America, using clean, clear, action filled prose, which will keep teens interested. She later focuses more on her startup business. Teens interested in entrepreneurship, international business and technology, and already hooked into the narrative of her life and resilience, will keep reading to the end, where more is revealed, including the fact that a bureaucrat risked her own life to assist Fu in escaping to America.–Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA

LAPSLEY , Phil. Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell. 416p. index. Grove. Feb. 2013. Tr $25.00. ISBN 978-0-8021-2061-8. LC 2012041240.
Adult/High School
–In 1955, when AT&T was essentially the only phone company in America, a teenager in Knoxville, TN discovered that if he played a certain tone into his telephone at the right moment he could have virtually unlimited access to AT&T’s phone network, including the ability to place free long-distance calls. It was a bug that was rediscovered again and again by techie teens over the next 20 years, teens who eventually became known as “phone phreaks.” In almost every case their motivation was essentially curiosity–they very rarely had real calls to make; rather, they were interested in how the phone system worked and what they could do with it, much like the majority of computer hackers of today. Nevertheless, as AT&T became aware of the increasing numbers of phone phreaks, phreaking slowly shifted from a fun, harmless hobby into a torturous cat-and-mouse game with AT&T, often ending in prosecutions and jail time. Lapsley more than ably conveys the nuances of this fascinating slice of technological history, even if he sometimes lapses into a too-cute phrase or two. And his enlightening new interviews with most of the major phreaks as well as AT&T security officers form one of the most significant levels of his tremendous research. Fans of Brian Falkner’s Brain Jack (Random, 2009), Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (Crown 2011), and other hacker tales, along with anyone who’s ever tried to liberate their iPhone, should be fascinated even before Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak show up to bridge the transition from phone phreaks to computer geeks.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

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.



  1. Please be aware the non-fiction book “Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds.” by Ping Fu and MeiMei Fox has many fabricated and fictional stories labeled as the author’s true experiences. It is very misleading to the young people. Please take this book out of you book list.

    Here is a very good book review by a Chinese American who went through the same time period as the book author.

    • Bend, Not Break is a Special Book says:

      This article explains why multiple review attacking Bend, Not Break suddenly appeared. I guess they ran across your site in one of their searches.

      Here’s an excellent NYT Op-Ed that elevates the conversation (though the attackers would prefer you not think about it.)

      • Bend,not Break a fake memoir for money says:

        The authors have been quiet for quite long time.—even Van Harris deleted all his posts on Amazon. Evans Harald took materials from Van Harris the long, and close friend of Ping Fu. They are several who are willing to share a pant with Ping Fu fro personal interests. Who wants to blame them?

      • Nancy Chen says:

        This is to inform you that Suzhou (Soochow) University has just released an official statement regarding Ping Fu’s fabrication of her life at the university and welcomes all media reporters to interview Ping Fu’s former teachers, classmates or academic adviser. As public librarians, you are socially responsible not to disseminate false information to the general public. This book should not be recommended as non fiction.

    • Anne Roth says:

      There is nothing misleading in Bend, Not Break. The author addressed questions here:
      She also posted this response to the criticism:

      • Nancy Chen says:

        My questions to Ms. Fu’s clarification on Huff Post.
        Hi Ms. Fu:
        You said you did not say you were in a labor camp, why did the media use the term, why did USCIS use “concentration camp,” did they all get these ideas because of their own fantasy?

        You said you did not attend schools between the ages of 8 to 10. Why did you say that photo of the Red Guard was taken at a school? Did you look older than 18?

        Also, do you expect people to believe a ten-year-old girl, who was brutally gang-raped, lost her consciousness, had more than 40 stitches, a broken tailbone, internal injuries, miraculously survived without anybody else even knowing such brutality actually occurred? You must be a super girl, an indestructible girl.

        Since you said you didn’t graduate from Suzhou University, did you submit a fake BA when applying for US colleges?

        If you were not a Red Guard, why were you taking a photo with them looking quite happy under their flag?

        Could you produce any manuscript or draft or a single shred of your so-called thesis to prove it did actually exist?

        You give the link to your classmate’s blog but do you dare to publish the English translation of their blog in Chinese?

        If you cannot answer these questions, your clarification means nothing.

      • Bend,not Break a fake memoir for money says:

        she used new lies to correct her old lies.

    • Steve A. says:

      Bend, Not Break might pique your curiosity because of the attempt to suppress it. It’s an excellent memoir and the writer was brave to share it with us.

    • Nancy Chen says:

      If an American published a book in China describing her life in America in details like depositing a letter in a green mailbox, seeing a wedding car decorated in red, greeting people by kowtowing, eating meals with chopsticks, impoverished teenagers driving around in a Mercedes-Benz; Chinese people with little knowledge of America may believe her, but do you expect other Americans living in China to believe her story?

      This is what Ping Fu told of her life in China:
      “We put letters in that little blue mailbox on the front gate” (China’s mailbox is green)

      “They loaded me into a black military van.” (PLA vehicles have a special green color called Army Green)

      “Black…, a color worn at funerals.” (In China, white is the color of a funeral procession)

      Red Guards drove around. (Teenagers drive around in America, but Red Guards in China did not drive cars nor did they have cars)

      An impoverished Ping Fu with all her family belongings confiscated “would take long bicycle rides across the old city of Nanjing.” (A bicycle is a luxury item at that time)

      “For a bed, I found a thin, stained single mattress next to the trash collection site.” (It’s common in America to find usable items in the trash collection bin, but in China at that time, there was no mattress at all; even if there was, anything usable next to the trash collection bin in China would be quickly taken)

      With these glaring western elements in her memoir, it is easy to see ghostwriter MeiMei Fox, an American with little knowledge of China, fabricated many of the stories in the book. I think the library should reclassify this book to fiction to protect innocent young readers from being misled.

  2. Nancy Chen says:

    Dear Library Staff,
    For Americans who have little knowledge of the Chinese history and the Cultural Revolution, this memoir by Ping Fu, Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds, surely is a fascinating rags-to-riches story, but many Chinese Americans who went through the same period of the time in China have questioned the veracity of her alleged life experiences in China. As a result, a massive online debate has been going on Amazon book review forums. A lot of her stories in China have been since proven fake, and some of her claims were already retracted by herself. To give you a quick briefing, here are some media reports on the controversy:
    Early this month, a group of Ping Fu’s former schoolmates contacted Suzhou University regarding her description of her life at the university, her graduation thesis on infanticide, her knowing only three English words when she came to America, among other issues related to her life at the school, and got the University’s response which contracts every claim she made. According to the University, she withdrew before graduation, there was never such a thesis on infanticide, no students of her class were arrested for any criminal conduct, and she did not earn any degree from the university as she claims but she did take two years of required English classes. Since she apparently fabricated her life stories in China, her readers on the Amazon discussion threads (more than 250 threads already) started to analyze the book and scrutinize every detail of her stories, including her stories after her arrival in the United States. It is found that her alleged experiences in the U.S are equally fake. For example, through FOIA requests or inquiries to relevant authorities, it is found that her alleged kidnapping never took place, she was not enrolled in any graduate program in UNM as she claims, and she filed a fake BA in Chinese with UIUC. And as an international student, even her working through college was not something that should be praised because working off-campus without work authorization is a violation of the Federal Regulations on F-1 visa students.
    I would also like to inform you that Ping Fu published a Chinese memoir in 1996, which contracts significantly with her English memoir. In fact what she told the Chinese media about her life in China is also different from what she told to the English media. She is indeed living a double life in two worlds.
    Based on the above facts, I highly suggest that you read a comprehensive review of this book by Liangfu Wu, a published author, at and you can come to your own conclusion whether this book is worth reading.
    All the above information can be verified if you want to contact the relevant authorities or universities.

    Thank you.

  3. Agree with XJ Li that you might want to remove “Bend, Not Break” off your list. Or maybe categorize it as “fiction”.
    Here are some mainstream media report on the book and the controversy it has generated:

    Forbes, Jan. 31, 2013 “Bend Not Break’ Author Ping Fu Responds to Backlash”

    The Guardian, Feb. 13, 2013: “Ping Fu’s childhood tales of China’s cultural revolution spark controversy”

    New York Times, Feb. 20, 2013 “True of False? Tussle Over Ping Fu’s Memoir”

  4. silkskirt says:

    How can you recommend a book that is disguised as memoir but full of exaggerations, fabrications and distortions? How can you promote someone a liar as a role model? How can you inspire people with lies? Even recommend to kids? Are you out of your mind?! Bend, Not Break is what I am talking about, Ping Fu is the one who is behind it. If you want to educate kids and DO NOT expect them to learn from the worse, please remove that book from your list!

    • i’d prefer not to engage with people who are trying to cause trouble, but Bend, Not Break is superb. It’s my favorite gift these days, for people of all ages. (I suspect someone will now accuse me of being hired to write this – that’s not the case. It’s simply one of the best books I have ever read.)

      • Bend,not Break a fake memoir for money says:

        If this can make you happier, the book Band, not Break is a fiction and for reader above 18. if you enjoy to be lied to, then this will be my last word to you, truth.

  5. Nancy Chen says:

    Early this month, a group of Ping Fu’s former schoolmates contacted Suzhou University regarding her description of her life at the university, her graduation thesis on infanticide, her knowing only three English words when she came to America, among other issues related to her life at the school, and got the University’s response which contradicts every claim she made. According to the University, she withdrew before graduation, there was never such a thesis on infanticide, no students of her class were arrested for any criminal conduct, and she did not earn any degree from the university as she claims but she did take two years of required English classes. Since she apparently fabricated her life stories in China, her readers on the Amazon discussion threads (more than 250 threads already) started to analyze the book and scrutinize every detail of her stories, including her stories after her arrival in the United States. It is found that her alleged experiences in the U.S are equally fake. For example, through FOIA requests or inquiries to relevant authorities, it is found that her alleged kidnapping never took place, she was not enrolled in any graduate program in UNM as she claims, and she filed a fake BA in Chinese with UIUC. And as an international student, even her working through college was not something that should be praised because working off-campus without work authorization is a violation of the Federal Regulations on F-1 visa students.

    I would also like to inform you that Ping Fu published a Chinese memoir in 1996, which contradicts significantly with her English memoir. In fact what she told the Chinese media about her life in China is also different from what she told to the English media. She is indeed living a double life in two worlds.

    You can verify the above facts by contacting the relevant authorities. Please do fact checking before recommending this book to your readers.

    Thank you.

  6. Bend, Not Break is a Special Book says:

    Please be advised that a gang is posting disparaging remarks about Bend, Not Break everywhere it appears. It’s a brilliant book. Beautifully written, chalk full of wonder and inspiration, and lessons about kindness that have stuck with me. I read it twice and it was even more amazing the second time.

    • Those of you making decisions about books to recommend: Bend, Not Break is a great choice. She has not misrepresented anything. If you read the book, you’ll see these accusations are fishy.

      • Bend,not Break a fake memoir for money says:

        Bend,not break is a fake memoir. One shall read as a fiction. If you say,waaa, are those stories true? no. I tell you, Pinf Fu made-up those stories for money and fame.

    • Nancy Chen says:

      It is not civil to call people questioning the veracity of this book a gang, and pointing out the author’s fabrications are not making disparaging remarks. Have you read the book?
      Page 5-9: The kidnapping never happened according to the Albuquerque Police Department.
      Page 25 “Rape of Nanjing Memorial Day falls on May 30, my birthday.” Rape of Nanjing Memorial Day is December 13th.
      Page 44: Even Ping Fu herself already admitted this incident of a teacher being torn apart by four horses could be the result of her nightmare.
      Page 55 Being an F-1 student, working off-campus was a violation of the federal regulation, and also by saying “I could barely afford UNM’s out-of-state tuition” suggests she turned in a fraudulent financial affidavit when she applied for the visa to come to the U.S. because she must provide proof of funding for one year’s tuition plus living expenses to the U.S. Consulate.
      Pages 60-61 Did Sylvester Stallone actually grab her rear-end and did she actually slap him on the cheek? If she could say John Wayne (died in 1979) “came to our restaurant,” you may wonder whether she actually dreamed up the whole incident.

    • Bend,not Break a fake memoir for money says:

      Please be advised that a few Ping Fu’s interest-related friends, or hired hands are attacking book readers. Pinf Fu advised her friend to report “abuse: if readers gave her book a one star on Amazon. She wants everyone to give her 5 stars ot higher. Is it a right way to sell books?

  7. Nancy Chen says:

    Pages 62-63 It would be hard to believe that at the ripe age of 25, she did not know the notation for fraction when she had an engineer professor father and an accountant mother.
    Page 66 “Less than one year away from completing my master’s degree in computer science, I dropped out of the University of New Mexico.” According to the information from UNM, she was never enrolled as a graduate student there.
    Page 67 It is illegal to work for Lane’s company as a F-1 student, especially when she was not even enrolled in school.
    Page 68 It was hard to believe any full time student could “be earning close to eighty thousand dollars a year.”
    Page 70 Lane Sharman confirmed that he did not sell his company to AT&T or anyone else.
    Pages 66-71 There was no mention of her first short-lived marriage with Richard through whom she got her green card before divorcing him.
    Page 76 Her gang-rape incident. “One of the boys kicked me so hard that I flew into the air and landed on another boy’s steel-tipped worker’s boots. I heard a crack like a tree branch splitting and felt a sharp pain in my tailbone.” If you can believe you can kick a ten-year-old child and send her flying into the air, you may be a good reader for this book.
    Page 98 “One More Cup of Coffee” that my favorite teacher had played many times in class during college – and it was the only English-language song that I had carried with me in my head from China to America.” Didn’t she say she only knew three English words when she came to America?
    Pages 114-116 She must be a girl of super strength to be able to carry two 7-year-old girls on her back and crawled one hundred meters while she herself was only 11 years old.
    Page 189 If one one-thousandth of the gold nugget was seventy yuan, her grandfather would have carried 70,000 yuan cash in his pocket when he bought it from that blind musician.
    Page 231 Ping Fu already admitted that she was not the one among those students accepted by college in 1977. To claim “out of every ten thousand applicants, only one was accepted to a university” would mean 33% of the population sat for the exam.
    Page 249 “I had wanted to major in aerospace engineering, but the government had decided that I would study literature.” College applicants who wanted to major in science and college applicants who wanted to study liberal arts took two different sets of exams at that time in China. It simply meant she did not take the exam for science major, besides, if she did not even know what fraction notation looks like at 25, she would have failed the science exam even if she had taken it.
    Page 252 “Red Maple Society.” Ping Fu already admitted she got this wrong.
    Page 255 Her arrest in the fall of 1982 was entirely made up since she already withdrew from the university on March 16, 1982, why would she be “making preparations for graduation?”
    For those who call this book a wonderful book, please show me whether you have actually read the book.

  8. Larry Trump says:

    Ping Fu, author of Bend Not Break, has provided countless unreliable information to the public. She has not be honest on her college degrees and even on her company’s revenue.
    These have happened in the real world. From this memoir written with her highly unreliable memory, what can readers expect?
    In 2005, Inc-Magazine selected Ping Fu as its Entrepeneur of the Year.
    In its article about Ping Fu written by John Brant and published in December that year, Inc-Magazine stated that Geomagic’s revenue “has grown by 2,105%, to around $30 million a year”.
    (Fourth paragraph at

    This revenue figure was later found wrong, completely wrong — higher than reality by an order of magnitude!
    If correct revenue value had been used to evaluate Geomagic, would its CEO be worth the honor of Entrepeneur of the Year?
    With ten times lower revenue, her chance would easily be ten times smaller. However, boosted with false information, she won it out.

  9. First, Was Ping Fu’s Rear End grabbed by Sylvester Stallone’s enormous right hand in Santa Fe?
    Did Ping Fu already have a child in SuZhou University? As China has “One Child Policy” not “No Child Policy” Where is Ping Fu’s first child born before 1984 now?

    Second, where is the thesis she claims that cause her to be deported. Any outline of the thesis? Who was the advisor? Why a Chinese teaching major needed to do thesis on social science?

    Third: Does US deport its criminal to another country? or Should we lock them up in prison? Why China was so nice to political prisoners?

    Forth: Ping Fu translated a children’s book into Chinese and made some profit out of it. Did IRS know her foreign income on this book? Did the book’s original author Mary Parsley knew about it?

    Fifth: Why is she not able to produce her diploma from Suzhou University?

    Sixth:Why did Ping Fu hide the fact that she married her first American husband (Richard Lynn Ewald) on September 1, 1986, and divorced three years later?

  10. Bend,not Break a fake memoir for money says:

    Ping Fu fabricated her life story in 2005 INc interview. Then at the time when 3d requiring Geomagic, she pushed out her memoir which contained many made-up stories to enlarge her character. This is absolutely wrong. And American people should not be introduced again another liar, like Lance Armstrong as role model. This is very scary.

  11. Ping Fu is a fraud says:

    NSF Grant to Ping Fu

    As we can see in this copy, Fu Ping has made claims that

    1.She had earned a BA of Chinese Literature from Suzhou University in 1982, which she has since admitted to be incorrect but has blamed others for the mistake.
    2.She served as a Lecturer at Nanjing Aeronautical Institute from 1982 to 1983, a period that she had claimed to be under house arrest while waiting to be deported following her research of female infanticide.
    3.She had a publication titled Two Minutes Stories, in China in 1988, when in fact that was a book of children’s stories she translated from its English version.

    Copy of the Resume can be found: