My Love Language is Snack Food: A Review of Permanent Record

Permanent Record
Written by Mary H. K. Choi
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Ages: 14+
Published: September 3, 2019

Nineteen-year-old Pablo Neruda Rind is a lot of things: snack food aficionado, NYU dropout, and deeply in debt. He’s working the night shift at a bodega when the stars align (or the pop stars align): superstar Leanna Smart comes in, picks out snacks, and sparks fly. Soon Pablo has two separate lives: the jet-setter life with Leanna and the one he’s avoiding back home. But you can only avoid debt collectors, parents, and roommates for so long.

Is this a love story? No. This is the story of a 19-year-old who simply cannot get it together. Pablo is whip-smart and talented and absolutely maddening. Why? Because author Mary H. K. Choi captures the haziness and frustration of almost-adulthood with perfect pitch. The romance between Pablo and Leanna isn’t that far-fetched on paper—her megastar life is paparazzi-ridden and exhausting, his life is debt-ridden and tiring.  This romance lets them both disconnect from what drains them. The difference is that Leanna is committed to her popstar life, whereas Pablo wants to check out of his. Which he does. It is not an easy feat, because, for all its complications, Pablo’s life is filled with people who love him. Watching him blow off his little brother or screen his mom’s calls aren’t easy for the reader. But it is possible for Pablo because he’s got his own script: his single mom is wedded to her work, she won’t even take them to Korea to visit their family; his dad is no role model, a Princeton engineer who now dabbles in playwriting? Please. And his little brother? Well, if his little brother knew about Leanna Smart, he would understand. The thing is, Pablo’s family and friends—heck, even his bosses at the bodega!—they do understand. But Pablo doesn’t hear it. At least, he doesn’t hear it, until finally, finally he does.

This is an excellent read for anyone who doesn’t know what they want to be when they grow up.

Spooky Stories If You Dare!

This fall season, Butler Center turns its attention to the things that go bump in the night. Ghosts, goblins, and the neighbors next door. We’ve handpicked some spooky tales for all ages and all scaredy-cat levels. We rated the books on a zero to five pumpkin scale (zero pumpkins means not scary at all; five pumpkins means prepare for the fright of your life). Grab some hot cider and settle down with one of our picks!

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Click, Clack, Boo! A Tricky Treat
Written by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin
Published by Little Simon
Age range: 0-3 years
Available now
This board book has plenty of sound effects and emotive illustrations. This lighthearted Halloween tale is not scary, except for one mysterious and spooky character wearing a cape.
Scary Rating: Half a pumpkin out of five pumpkins

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Pick a Pumpkin
Written by Patricia Toht and illustrated by Jarvis
Published by Candlewick
Age range: 3-8 years
Available now
This picture book is saturated with sunset colors and family outings. Not at all frightening, this is the book to read to get children in the mood for fall.
Scary Rating: zero pumpkins out of five pumpkins 

The Forgotten Girl.jpgThe Forgotten Girl
Written by India Hill Brown
Published by Scholastic Press
Ages 8-12 years
Available November 5, 2019
The Forgotten Girl is a tale about the ghosts of segregation and racism. When Iris happens upon an unmarked grave during the first snowfall of the season—her curiosity is sparked, but so is her imagination. Real-life ghosts and family peril are supplemented by disturbing historical accuracies. This book is not lighthearted, but it is meaningful and scary all at the same time.
Scary Rating: 4 pumpkins out of 5 pumpkins 

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Guest: A Changeling Tale
Written by Mary Downing Hahn
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Ages 8-12 years
Available now
Veteran scary storyteller Mary Downing Hahn elicits frights and dread with her folkloric tale of switched infant boys. Mollie sings praises on her beautiful baby brother Thomas, a mistake if the Kinde Folke hear, which they do and soon enough her brother is stolen and replaced by a changeling child from another world. As Mollie and her family turn on this changeling, Mollie vows to return this “guest” and get her brother back. An eerie atmospheric tale, you can feel the fog and dread seep into your bones as Mollie traverses to the deep, deep wood. The cruelty in the book is not terrifying, but it is unsettling. This is a spooky book well-suited for reading under blankets.
Scary Rating: 3 pumpkins out of 5 pumpkins 

Scary Stories for Young Foxes.jpgScary Stories for Young Foxes
Written by Christian McKay Heidicker and illustrated by Junyi Wu
Published by MacMillan/Henry Holt
Ages 8-12 years
This story-within-a-story is downright frightening. Family loss, turmoil, gore, with the backdrop of survival of the fittest make for a thrilling read. Young readers will grapple with death and consequences, but the affection throughout makes it downright endearing, too. This is a tale that begs to be read aloud.
Scary Rating: 3 pumpkins out of 5 pumpkins 

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The Okay Witch
Written and illustrated by Emma Steinkellner
Published by Aladdin
Age Range: 10-14 years
Available now
The Okay Witch is a fast-paced adventure that summons generational legacies and hurtful histories. Moth Hush takes on a lot for a thirteen year old: bullying at school, a complicated family life, and new witching abilities. Witch-hunting and execution are balanced by a charming cat and a budding friendship.
Scary Rating: 1 pumpkin out of 5 pumpkins 

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Life Is Short and Then You Die: Mystery Writers of America Presents First Encounters with Murder
Edited by Kelley Armstrong
Published by Imprint
Ages 14+ years
What makes this collection of short stories so eerie is that many of these stories are too relatable— online message board run amok and the danger of “nice guys” to name a few.  This anthology blends contemporary fare with a few historical stories with very little paranormal activity. The collection’s main focus is the horror of the everyday. Teens can browse around to find stories that suit their mood.
Scary Rating: 4.5 pumpkins out of 5 pumpkins

Last Night at the Patch: A Review of Pumpkinheads

Pumpkinheads

Pumpkinheads
Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks
Graphic novel
First Second Books, August 27, 2019
Ages 14-17

It’s the last night of their final pumpkin patch season before Deja and Josiah head off to college. As the weather turns, Deja cajoles her employee-of-the-month pal to leave the confines of the Succotash Hut and give their beloved pumpkin patch an epic sendoff. Author Rainbow Rowell (Eleanor & Park) teams up with author/writer Faith Erin Hicks (Comics Will Break Your Heart) to deliver a madcap adventure of two friends navigating their ways through love, friendship, and corn mazes.

Graphic novel Pumpkinheads combines a pithy humor with teenage self-reflection. The quirky pop culture references (there is a John Denver cover band called John Colorado Springs) are delightful, but more delightful is Deja, a pumpkin patch heartbreaker whose love of snacks is only surpassed by her affection for her friend Josiah. Josiah plays the rule-abider to Deja’s social butterfly and the two complement each other well. However, Rowell and Hicks do not let their characters stay stuck in their ways. When the pair’s discussion turns to fate, Josiah says his leave-it-up-to-fate attitude is a perfect match for Deja’s go-getter nature. Deja is quick to reply that his passive nature means that she is the one doing the work to makes things happen.

Rowell and Hicks alternate action sequences with emotional revelations. Despite great dialogue, some of the most powerful moments are close-ups of Deja’s face when her emotions shift. Near the end of their evening together, Deja’s face reacting to a plain but heartfelt admission from Josiah is familiar and priceless to any teenager or former teenager.

[[Following the story is a conversation between collaborators Rowell and Hicks, delving into plot ideas, character development, and the artistic design process.]]