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Season 3, Episode 5

The Books that Surprised Us

October 14, 2021

A discussion about books that they expected not to like but turned out to be surprisingly good with Charity and Breea. Book recommendations for Middle Grade and YA readers.

Titles Mentioned in This Episode

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Charity 0:02 Welcome to the Planet Book podcast. I'm your host Charity.

Breea 0:06 And I'm your host Breea.

Charity 0:07 On each episode you'll hear us talking about our favorite tween and teen books. Thanks for joining us today. On this episode, we are talking about the books that surprised us, books that maybe we didn't expect to like, but they were a pleasant surprise and we ended up loving them. So we each have a few books to share with you guys today. And I'm looking forward to this discussion. I never know what to expect, Breea, that you're gonna share.

Breea 0:33 I just like to throw things, throw a curveball at you every now and then.

Charity 0:38 I love it. Well, I'll go ahead and share my first one. So it's a middle grade title. And it's an older book, but I share it because I find there are still a lot of folks that don't know about it. And that's Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.

Breea 0:49 Ok, yeah.

Charity 0:51 So that's the author of The Hunger Games, but this series came out first, came out in 2003. It's a five book series. And when it came out, so it's got quite a bit of fantasy in it. And as you already know, I'm not a huge fan. But the main characters, a lot of them are animals and insects, which also does not appeal to me. And so I had a coworker, though, that read it. And she was like, oh, my gosh, this is so good. You've got to read it. And I looked up the summary and like, one of the main characters is a human-sized talking cockroach. And I was like.

Breea 1:28 Pleasant.

Charity 1:29 I don't think so. I am not reading a book with a talking cockroach. And she was like, oh, no, I promise you, you're gonna forget that it's a cockroach. And so I read it, and I loved it. It is now probably my favorite children's series, one of my top favorites. And so it's a great story. It's got a little bit of something for everyone. It's a story of a brother and a sister who live in New York City and they find this underground realm, sort of like an alternate world. And this brother and sister they're like, kind of, the prince and princess of this world and they didn't realize that until they get there. So there's, like, kind of this folklore about these, like kids that are going to come and save this realm. And so they're the kids. But it's underground. So you've got like insects, like this human-sized cockroach and like talking bats and wizards. And, you know, so there's adventure and there's action. You know, the good guys are fighting the bad guys. It's like an epic story. And you do forget that that character is a cockroach, because you're just like, oh, this is just a really fun, cute character. And he kind of has like an adorable kind of unique way of speaking, like an unusual speech pattern that's really cute and funny. But then every now and then, like, there'll be some detail, and you'll be reminded that oh, yeah, this is a cockroach, but you don't even care. And so five books, like at the end of that fifth book, I wanted there to be a sixth book. I was like, come on Suzanne Collins. But it is a wonderful series.

Breea 3:02 I feel like you could have even talked about it in our previous episode, underrated, overrated books.

Charity 3:07 You know, I probably could have. Underrated because I recommend it for older middle grade readers. We get a lot of families looking for family read alouds. This is a great family read aloud because it does have a little something for everyone. It's got all those animals. And so it really, there parts of it that are really cute and funny. It's just a really well done series.

Breea 3:29 It sounds like it gets overlooked in comparison to the Hunger Games series.

Charity 3:34 Yes, yes. Because once in a while I'll get someone who'll be like, has she written anything else? I was like, well, she actually wrote this children's series. And it doesn't really feel like a children's series. I feel like she does a good job of kind of avoiding some of the typical storylines and tropes that you see in chapter books.

Breea 3:53 Didn't she also write Little Bear too, like a few of the Little Bear books?

Charity 3:57 I'm not sure about that. I don't know.

Breea 3:59 I feel like I heard that and I'd have to double check my sources. Or just just check a book. But I feel like I remember that being like a really weird, stark comparison. Like, yeah, really dark Hunger Games and then we have Little Bear forest creatures. And then I guess we have that middle ground too. That's the--

Charity 4:19 Yeah, kind of the middle ground between those two, but it's just wonderful. And I get patrons when I recommend it to them, they come back and say, oh, my gosh, we really enjoyed that. So Gregor the Overlander.

Breea 4:30 I'm gonna have to check that out. If I can get over my fear of cockroaches and--

Charity 4:34 I'm telling you, you will forget it's a cockroach. You will not care. You will come to love that cockroach.

Breea 4:40 I've read bizarre things so I can probably do it.

Charity 4:44 Yeah.

Breea 4:46 Okay, so the book that I've, well, one of the books that I've chosen also is actually a Newbery winner. I thought that would be appropriate since we had talked about the award winners when we're talking about some of our reader confessions.

Charity 4:58 Yes. Yes.

Breea 5:00 Because when I was growing up one of my art teachers, when we were doing projects, she would read us the Newberys which was fantastic. Like it was great to listen to them in the background.

Charity 5:11 Yeah, that's so fun.

Breea 5:13 If you didn't like one, you could just kind of zone out because you were still working on your project. But if you really liked it, I mean, it was great, you got to work on art, and you got to hear a story. And so I absolutely love that. The one that I really didn't think I was going to enjoy that my art teacher pulled out when we were starting a new book was Holes by Louis Sachar.

Charity 5:32 Oh.

Breea 5:34 That one probably comes across as a familiar title to a lot of our listeners. But if it doesn't, it's this book about a kid who is falsely accused of a crime and is sent to a camp to dig holes with other, basically, troublemaker boys like him, quote, unquote. So of course, none of those aspects about this story really compelled me. I was like, I didn't want to read about an all boys camp of troublemakers who were just out in the middle of nowhere, just digging holes. Like nothing about that sounded appealing. And I was like, oh goodness, it's another one of those Newberys.

Charity 6:16 Right?

Breea 6:18 But I loved Holes. And I liked the movie, too, that they ended up doing a movie adaptation a few years later. But, of course, the book is always going to be what I prefer over the movies. What I really enjoyed about this book was the woven in narrative of Miss Kissin' Kate Barlow, which was more of like the foundation as to where all of our narrator or not our narrator, but our protagonist, Stanley Yelnats, that's where all his bad luck comes from. And I just loved how compelling that storyline was, and how effortlessly it wove into the story's conclusion and reveal. So I ended up really loving this book when I was little. And I was really excited when the movie came out based on it as well.

Charity 7:10 You know, I read that one and I would have to agree with you. Like if I were going to pick another one. I feel like this one is a surprising title to like. And I feel like listening to you describe it. Yeah, it's kind of when you describe it to someone, it doesn't sound the most appealing.

Breea 7:24 It's not. It's not.

Charity 7:26 An all boys camp, they're out in the middle of nowhere, and they're digging holes. But it really was a good book. I liked it. I liked all the different characters and the way, just the dynamic between all of them, and just the overall tone and feeling of it. I liked it a lot. But so yeah, I feel like this one, you know, kind of comes up on you and you're not expecting it to be that good.

Breea 7:48 I tend to steer clear of books that are just so heavily male driven, because I like a diverse cast. And so when I was like, it's just gonna be all these dudes.

Charity 7:58 Right, right.

Breea 8:00 Like so much masculinity issues are gonna come up here that we're gonna have to address. And really like, I forgot who one of the leaders was, but she was also a female and she was really scary. But she was like a very powerful character in that book and then kissing Kate Barlow on top of that, who was even more terrifying, but so thrilling to read about.

Charity 8:23 Right.

Breea 8:24 And then just like the guys, in general, too in this book, were just, they were fun. They were like such flawed individuals that were also, in their own ways, misunderstood as well, like good kids that had just had rough pasts or rough starts to life that, you know, you got to find endearing after a while.

Charity 8:46 Right. Exactly. Yeah. I cosign on all of that, totally.

Breea 8:49 Yeah, approval. Every now and then we agree.

Charity 8:54 Yes, every now and then. Well, so the next book that I was going to share is one that I read earlier this year, and it's called Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power who also wrote Wilder Girls, which has been on my radar. That came out in 2019. I haven't read it yet. Burn Our Bodies Down came out in 2020 and so it's YA. And I think I'm really picky about YA books that I read. So when I pick up a YA novel, I am already, I guess, kind of critical, like, okay, what are the tropes? What is it? But this one was such a pleasant surprise, because it reads a lot more like an adult fiction title, like it's a thriller. And it's the story of, I want to say the main character's name is Margo, and her mom, and it's just the two of them, and she doesn't know anything about her family, and mom refuses to tell her anything about her family. Like it's this big secret; mom gets angry when she even mentions it. And she just wants to know, like, where she's from, who she's connected to. And she happens to come across some information about her grandmother. And so she gives grandmother a call, her mom's mom, and grandmother is like, well, hey, come on and visit me. And so for the first time, she meets her grandmother, and so she's in her mom's hometown, and she stays with grandma. And so she's even living in the room where her mom grew up. And so like, the first day, she's in this town, like, there's a murder, and she gets kind of mistakenly involved in it. And so she's trying to extricate herself from that. But also, it's clear that there's some secrets that a lot of the people in this town know about her family, and that's connected to the murder. And so she kind of is trying to figure out like, what is the truth here? What's the deep dark family secret? And what does it have to do with this murder that's happened? And it's really suspenseful, and fast-paced and twisty.

Breea 10:56 I am intrigued. I love that.

Charity 10:59 It's got kind of a weird little sci-fi twist. When you finally get to the climax of it and you find out, like, what really happened that I was just like, oh.

Breea 11:08 But does it work?

Charity 11:10 You know it could. In a world where we engineer our food a lot and GMOs and all that kind of thing. I think it's somewhat plausible. But it is a little sci-fi like, it's--

Breea 11:23 Now is the sci fi kind of, like, explored throughout the book, or does it come across as like one of the major twists at the end?

Charity 11:30 It's kind of a major twist, but they do explain it.

Breea 11:34 Okay.

Charity 11:35 And so you're like, so they make it make sense.

Breea 11:377 Because I love myself a good fantasy, good sci fi, but one of my pet peeves is some storylines, is like when it's set off as one genre and then in the last few chapters, it switches into a completely different genre that you weren't expecting and--

Charity 11:54 I wouldn't say it switches genres. It's just you know, kind of the crux, the linchpin of the story is kind of a sciency, you know, science gone wrong explanation.

Bree 12:07 Ah, I see. Okay.

Charity 12:09 It was really good.

Breea 12:11 I will be picking this. I'm like writing down these books as we go. I'm like, Yes, yes. You'll probably not write down my next one. Because this one, I feel like I picked popular titles, thinking I was so hipster. Like, I didn't think these would be cool because they're so mainstream.

Charity 12:32 Right, right.

Breea 12:34 But, of course, I've got to talk about Twilight. I just, I have to talk about Twilight real quick.

Charity 12:39 Okay.

Breea 12:40 So Twilight, Stephenie Meyer, when I was, when were those books popular, 15 I started the Twilight series. And like I told you, Charity, in one of our last podcasts, if I don't like it, if I'm not vibing with a story, I put it aside. I'm not gonna force myself to read it. So I think I was like three or four chapters into Twilight, the first book and I was like, I don't really like it and I put it aside. I was like, I don't like this writing style. I am not a huge fan of what's going on. Oh well, and didn't think much of it until I went to school and all my friends were talking about Twilight. Like they were talking about the series; they were excited about the next books coming out. And I realized that there was a book conversation going on that I wasn't a part of, and that's not normal. Like usually I'm the one to stimulate the conversation. But here I was out of the loop in this Twilight world.

Charity 13:44 You felt peer pressure to read this book.

Breea 13:47 I did because people were like Team Edward, Team Jacob and I was like I don't know what team I'd be on because the only person I even kind of saw during my short time I read the book was Edward so I guess him. But yeah, I was peer pressured into continuing to read the book. And I ended up really loving it and just really like breezing through New Moon and Eclipse. And Breaking Dawn is a whole other story we don't have to get into today because that was one that gave me pause. The first three I really, really enjoyed. I have to say though, like after having read so many wonderful titles in my old age, haha, I go back to Twilight and I do not find that same enjoyment anymore. I just, I feel like I've not necessarily grown out of it but like my style has changed and my interests have changed and I have developed different-I'm trying to put this as tastefully as possible without saying I think it's creepy for someone to watch you sleep at night. But it's something that I still appreciate. And it's something that I didn't realize I was going to enjoy. And I still think that others should try picking it up and just seeing what the fuss is about before you make your own opinion. Because I feel like a lot of people nowadays find it kind of popular to just, like, automatically hate on it without having even tried reading the book. And I think it might shock a lot of people that it's actually a pretty compelling story. Like it might not be the most poetic thing you're ever going to read. But I think the way that it's told is quick, it's easy to read through, and you've got some fun characters to follow along the way.

Charity 15:46 I'm curious, since you did say in the last episode, I think that, yeah, you drop books if you don't like them. And so you had started this one and you weren't feeling it. So when you went back to it did you start from the beginning or did you just pick up where you left off? Why do you think you liked it? I mean, what did you just go into it with a different mindset? Or what do you think happened there?

Breea 16:13 It's hard, because it's been so long ago. It kind of goes back to the idea of Harry Potter that we had talked about earlier too. Where it's like that community is so fun. It's fun to be a part of a fandom. And so this was like the fandom at the time when I was, you know, along with Harry Potter, but Twilight, it was almost like, kind of filled in that gap that Harry Potter had left for me. Like it was like my new interest. And I think that was basically it. It was like there were these people that were in a book fandom and I just wanted to be part of book fandoms. Like, it's one thing to be a part of like a television series fandom. I'm going to miss many of those because I am bad at sticking with a series. But by golly, if there is a book fandom going on, and I'm not a part of it, that is something that I feel like I'm missing out on. And so especially when I was a teen and like that was one of my main things is that I love to read. And I realized that there was a conversation going on, and I wasn't in it. I had to change that. And so and I did, again, there is a certain just a really fun air about being a part of something that people are so excited about. Like I remember dressing up for like the midnight release.

Charity 17:32 Oh wow.

Breea 17:33 Going to the movies and, like, buying the shirts that were like Team Edward, Team Jacob, like, very cringy things nowadays that, you know, you go, oh, I can't believe I did that. But I did and I love you know, drawing fan art over it. There's just it's you know, it's a part of you like it was just a part of your timeline. And I was glad I was peer pressured into continuing. So that's a really bad moral to the story.

Charity 18:05 But peer pressure on books like, fine.

Breea 18:009 Peer pressure on books is fine. If someone's very, very passionate about a story, I will usually like, yeah, give it a go because I want to be excited with someone when it comes to storytelling and literature. I'm like, yes, I want to share in your excitement.

Charity 18:28 So you have a lot of FOMO when it comes to books.

Breea 18:29 Yes.

Charity 18:30 You're very prone to that. You know, so I haven't read that series. But I was already at the library when that came out. And it was probably the first series after Harry Potter that really sent people to the library-kids and teens and adults looking for that book. And, you know, there hadn't been a book like that since Harry Potter.

Breea 18:51 Right.

Charity 18:52 And so I feel like anytime a book motivates that many people across that many generations to read, like there's got to be something to that, like so.

Breea 19:03 Right. And that's why I fall in love with those popular titles too. When people are like, what are your favorite books? And I start naming off really popular titles and like, oh, that's so mainstream. And like, I think that's why I love them is because they get a community excited about reading. And so that's why I have to be a part of those and why I consider them some of my favorite titles, even if I get older and they're not as in my main interest as they used to be. I think they still remain as some of my favorite books because we were all a part of something at that point of time that was just this new world, this new realm. And we all imagined it differently. And we all have our theories and it's just, it's a lot of fun.

Charity 19:50 You know, it is so interesting every year that you say that because I feel like I'm at the complete opposite end of that spectrum. And one of the reasons I didn't read it was because it was so popular. I just don't jump on the bandwagon. But I love that we're creating our own little two person community here.

Breea 20:05 Yeah.

Charity 20:06 Well, and however many people are listening out there to talk about books and it's always fun.

Breea 20:12 Yeah.

Charity 20:13 It's always fun. Thanks for joining us for another episode of the Planet Book podcast. Check out the library's website at the for these and other great book recommendations, and follow us on Facebook for the latest news and events. This has been a production of the Springfield-Greene County Library District. Thanks for listening.

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