Friday, October 28, 2011

LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM by Mal Peet


We can all name them. Books we never want to end. Books that we hope possess the magical ability to sit on our bedside table each night and grow more chapters for us to read the following morning. Well, here is a Please-Don’t-Ever-End book. Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet is an exhilarating read, intellectually, creatively, aesthetically. It is wild and bold and filled with extraordinary and lovely writing. It is like no other young adult book I have ever read. It is one of the best books I have read in years. It is masterful.

Life is a postmodern novel, with an epic story that deeply challenges typical narrative structures. It sweeps across the world from the British countryside to Cuba to America; it mixes fiction with fact; it changes from third person to first person -- sometimes in the middle of a chapter! It spans great chunks of time, opening with a suicidal Nazi pilot in the final days of World War II and ending with – well, I won’t tell you what it ends with. But how many books have you read cut from a teen romance for a chapter on the history of Cuba? Or zips from imminent teenage sex to John F. Kennedy debating the Cuban Missile Crisis inside the Whitehouse? Sometimes an exploding missile can be metaphorical.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Everyman's McLuhan

Sometimes, reading makes me feel stupid. There are some smart people in the world, linguists and philosophers and political theorists, who can say things that sit in that area just outside the realm of my understanding. I sorta get what they're saying, but not entirely, and the fact that they are taken seriously, debated and proffered as great thinkers, makes me feel like I have a defect.


That said, there are people whose words I came across at a young age, whose ideas stuck with me and made me want to try and understand them. In my teens I came across a pair of paperback designed to appeal to the hipsters of the early 70s, books full of soundbites and quotes richly supported by free-form photo-collage work. One was a book by Buckminster Fuller called I Seem To Be A Verb and the other The Medium Is the Message by Marshall McLuhan. Of the two I was better able to grok, mostly, what Fuller was saying because the message was all about preserving what he called Spaceship Earth. The McLuhan book on the other hand stood just outside the boundaries of my brain's comfort zone. I could tell he was saying something important about the effect of media on society but I couldn't quite find a way to condense his message into talking points for conversation.

Every once in a while I've tried to dip back into McLuhan and thought I found an entry point when I came across Douglas Coupland's biography. Coupland, who popularized the term Generation X and is of my generation, crafted a readable biography but only glanced at McLuhan's theories. Still, I felt like I was getting closer to understanding if nothing else the evolution of how McLuhan came to see the world the way he did. Then, days after I finished Coupland's biography, I came across Everyman's McLuhan and my brain sighed Finally.

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Lost States

Growing up in Southern California it is hard not to notice that there is a simmering animosity with neighbors to the north. It isn't so much that Sacramento, the state's northern nowheresville capitol, is out of touch with the urban hipness of Los Angeles, Hollywood, and the wealthy enclaves of Santa Barbara and San Diego counties. Nor was it the hippie-centric enclaves of Santa Cruz and San Francisco who felt that the south was nothing more than water-stealing conservatives. It was the fact that California was, and is, a "destination state" that draws immigrants from all over the country, so much so that fewer than one in seven Californians is a native. Basically, the state is full of people up and down the coast who'll never agree with one another; dividing the state into factions seems like a good idea only until it comes time to discuss how to do it, at which point things fall apart.

Every state in the United States, apparently, has some version of this story. Reading Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made It is a fun little romp through the growing pains of a young nation and the people who would mold it to their personal agendas. Some of these lost states were merely boundary squabbles latter settled by politicians, others were publicity stunts designed to attract tourists or business, and still more have been proposed as a matter of political or economic practicality like the annexation of various islands for some strategic advantage. Each of the Lost States receives a brief history of its proposal and why it failed as well as a map outlining (or in most cases approximating) it's location in relation to what state is currently in its place.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Gay Fish is a Good Fish


What is Fish, drawn well, and features lots of hugs and gay boys looking moon-y over other gay boys?

Cavalcade of Boys by author and cartoonist Tim Fish!

I've been a fan of Tim's artwork ever since he drew for the whimsical series, Young Bottoms in Love. Cavalcade is over 500 pages of gay goodness, more of a graphic anthology than a graphic novel, as it features recurring characters and their romantic adventures and mishaps.


Tim understands the trials-and-tribulations of being gay and in your late teens/early 20s. While the overall goal of the book is certainly comedic, there are some heart-wrenching situations--times you, as reader, will want to cry out "Foul!" or "Don't do it, man!" Your emotions will be scored raw at times--you will want to tear out some pages and pin them to your wall, tear out some pages because the boys you have come to care for have done bad things. Like life.

The art is safe, if you're wondering. Some panels are suggestive rather than demonstrative. Any reader above 14 should read this and grin.

Check out Tim's website, which I wish was less minimalistic. His books can be a bit hard to find, might be more expensive than other gay comics, but the price and the hunt is worth it. Like love.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

The Project by Brian Falkner

I have to admit that as titles go, The Project is definitely on the bland side. Despite this, the book itself is quite exciting, even though it is about the most boring book in the world. As Luke, one of the main characters in The Project, puts it, "This is a book about the most boring book in the world, which is a different book altogether."

Luke and Tommy wanted to avoid reading the book they were sure was the most boring, The Last of the Mohicans. And what better way to avoid reading (especially if, like Luke, you can't stand reading) than pulling a prank that demonstrates your feelings about the book? Unfortunately, as awesome as the prank would have been, Luke and Tommy get caught. They will still have to read The Last of the Mohicans...unless they can prove that the James Fenimore Cooper classic really is the most boring book in the world, in which case the vice principal of their school will let them do their English assignment on the book of their choice.

A quick Google search doesn't bring up anything that will help Luke's case. He does, however, find an article about a 19th century book that many historians consider the most boring book in the world. Only one copy of Leonardo's River was published, and it's been missing for over a hundred years. It's worth a fortune, so there's no way Luke has just stumbled upon it in an Iowa library, right?

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

An interview with Edward Ormondroyd, author of "David & the Phoenix"

Some days, you have just GOTTA love the internet.

A random comment left on the Charlotte's Library blog MONTHS ago garnered me an email from author Marc Tyler Nobleman (BOYS OF STEEL: The Creators of Superman) and a link to his Edward Ormondroyd interview!

Edward Who, you ask?

Edward Ormondroyd (I love that last name) is the author of my favorite 1963 (reissue, Purple House Press, 2003) time travel novel TIME AT THE TOP, which Charlotte so ably reviewed for an August TIMESLIP TUESDAY feature, and to which, I must admit, I wrote a very fanfic-y sequel at about the age of twelve. (Do not ask to see this thing. No: do not.)

Mr. Ormondroyd's first novel, DAVID AND THE PHOENIX, has seen a resurgence of popularity due to The Boy Wizard -- a lot of boys+magic novels are going into reprint for the same reason, which is All To The Good -- and as the Phoenix novel is a favorite of Marc's, he tracked the author down. Discovering that somehow Edward Ormondroyd had never before been interviewed, Marc set to it with forty-one questions. Forty-one!! The interview is - for obvious reasons - in two parts; Part the first, here, followed by its conclusion.

I was happy to see that TIME AT THE TOP is the author's all-time favorite book of those he's written - it's mine too! I hope that eventually someone redoes the 90's Showtime movie version of the book, because they totally ruined it. (Stupid 90's TV.) Ahem.

Thank you Charlotte, for reviewing an old favorite of mine, and thank you, Marc, for going the extra mile to actually finding the author and letting him know how much his works are loved.

It's the internet: for once using its powers for good.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Why Chromosome: Why Boys Do Love Books

My online acquaintance Alethea told me about the upcoming event called The Why Chromosome: Why Boys Do Love Books. It sounded like something GuysLitWire supporters would like, so I thought I'd spread the word! The details are as follows:

The Why Chromosome is an author event and book signing for readers, writers, bloggers, and educators interested in middle grade and young adult literature. Our special focus will be on boys and encouraging their love of reading.

When: Sunday, October 30, 2011 - 1:00 - 4:00 pm

Where: Mrs. Nelson’s Toy & Book Shop, 1030 Bonita Avenue, La Verne, CA 91750

Grassroots organization Bridge to Books is following up their successful YA in Bloom summer party with another author extravaganza, The Why Chromosome: Why Boys Do Love Books!

The end-of-October event will feature a panel of seven young adult and middle grade book authors to discuss boys and their reading habits. Authors Jonathan Auxier, Greg van Eekhout, Mark Jeffrey, G. Neri, Andrew Smith, John Stephens and Allen Zadoff will participate in the panel. They will also be available to sign books.

Ticketed attendees will enjoy food, drinks, swag bags and will also have the opportunity to participate in a trivia contest, win raffle prizes, and have their books signed.

Readers of all ages are welcome to attend, as the goal of the event is to bring together young readers, parents, educators, librarians, authors, and publishers, in the organization’s continuing mission to unite book lovers of all kinds. The overall goal is simple: To connect kids to reading.

Tickets are available through Mrs. Nelson’s Toy & Book Shop at (909) 599-4558.

Visit the event website for blog updates as the event approaches: http://bit.ly/whyboysread

To buy tickets or learn more, visit the Bridge to Books blog. Bookmark that site and check it for details on future events.

Authors, publishers, volunteers, and sponsors who would like to get involved with the Why Chromosome events should email bridgetobooks@gmail.com

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Children of the Street by Kwei Quartey

Sometime last year I mentioned the Cain-prize-winning short story "Stickfighting Days" by Olufemi Terry. It's about street boys - orphaned or homeless kids - who roam the worst areas of an unnamed city in Africa (most likely Nairobi) looking to get by and take out their frustrations in a violent, deadly "king of the hill" series of stickfighting contests.

I couldn't help but think of Terry's story as I read the new mystery by Kwei Quartey: Children of the Street. In it, a serial killer is preying on the abandoned and lost street kids of Accra, Ghana, and it paints a pretty bleak picture of street life in the West African city. Quartey's detective, Darko Dawson, has a heart as big and open as any I've ever encountered in mystery fiction, and his dogged pursuit of the killer takes him, and us, on a tour of some the most startling, gutwrenching aspects of the capitol city of one of the world's fastest growing economies.

But that paragraph, the one I just wrote, gets at some of the strongest, and weakest, elements of this ultimately fascinating mystery.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Brian Wood's Northlanders

Q. What happens when a viking gets bit by a radioactive spider?

A. The radioactive spider gets viking powers.

Brian Wood's Northlanders contains very little of the fantastic elements common in most comic series. There's no superpowers or zombies. And while Norse mythology comes into play in some story arcs, it serves to add flavoring and background. For the most part, this is real, raw history. But when it's history of a culture as brutal and beautiful and fascinating as the Norse, all that other stuff just gets in the way.

Also unique for an on-going series, Northlanders doesn't focus on a particular cast of characters. Instead, Wood said in an interview, "From day one it was always my desire to cover as much ground as possible.  Right now, I have stories that span from 760-1100 AD, from Russia to Greenland, from the perspective of men, women, and children, from the Vikings themselves to the people they conquered (or tried to).  That breadth of story is what makes the book what it is."

Since Northlanders is an anthology series, you can jump in at just about any point. However, I do recommend the graphic novels The Plague Widow and Metal and Other Stories as excellent places to start.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shape-Shifting Fantasy Adventure: THE CLOUD ROADS

I wasn't familiar with SFF author Martha Wells, but I was intrigued by the refreshing premise of her YA fantasy novel The Cloud Roads. You'll find no vampires or werewolves here, but you will find shapeshifters who can morph into flying beings both beautiful and terrible. In a starred review of an earlier novel by Wells, Kirkus Reviews said, "In a field teeming with clones, retreads, and solipsistic doorstoppers, Wells dares--and gloriously succeeds--to be different." And different this one is—but the story rests on a solid foundation of some of my favorite fantasy tropes. Moon, the protagonist, is an orphan with an enigmatic past, who finds out he is not alone in the world but rather a member of a race of shapeshifters, the Raksura. Neither he nor the Raksura know it yet, but they need him in order to save their entire race from another set of shape-shifters: the violent, destructive, and unscrupulous Fell.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Compulsion by Heidi Ayarbe

The numbers have been good, so lately life has been pretty good. If Jake Martin can keep things together and win a soccer title for his high school, he can forget about them. But for now, the prime numbers are the only thing keeping him on an even keel.

In Heidi Ayarbe's Compulsion (Compuls1on on the cover), Jake has been barely keeping up with school and especially struggles with showing up on time. With a teacher looking to make an example of a jock, Jake can't be late or he will be ineligible for the championship.

Ayarbe delves into compulsiveness and how it can rule every part of someone's life. Readers are given unique insight into his thoughts as Jake constantly checks on the time and other numbers and how they make him feel. With only his sister as a confidant, Jake is convinced that after he gets his trophy and graduates that he can forget about prime numbers and his reliance on them.

This is an interesting novel and teens interested in mental health and compulsiveness will appreciate its fairly blunt portrayal. Jake is a strongly drawn character and readers will be rooting for him in the midst of his struggles and unhealthy relationships.

Dropping into Jake’s thoughts is interesting at first but it can make parts of the novel difficult to slog through. The point is to really get readers to understand what Jake is going through, though it can be tedious and a bit overwhelming.

I usually give recommendations of similar books, but I am somewhat stumped on this one because of its uniqueness. My best idea is sports books about overcoming obstacles and the emotions affects that goes into the craft like Robert Lipsyte's Center Field.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems

Rewarding though it is, poetry is not always welcoming. Emily Dickinson is rather staid. Robert Frost is so somber. Muriel Rukeyser is frequently esoteric. Even Shakespeare’s sonnets can be at times as overwhelmingly florid as the lace cushions on your grandmother’s couch.

Frank O’Hara has seen a resurgence of interest lately. His Meditations in an Emergency popped up in Mad Men and friends keep bringing him up. O’Hara achieves the neat trick of placing within a taut form a spontaneous eye for his world.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

We are looking for new posters

It's that time of year again - some of our regulars have moved on to other things and we need a few more posters here at Guys Lit Wire. It's a small commitment - only one day a month - and you can write about any book or bookish topic that would appeal [primarily] to teen boys. We are particularly looking for posters of the male persuasion (sorry gals - it was a lot of the men who have left us recently).

Contact me at colleenATchasingrayDOTcom if you're interested.

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Autobiography of My Dead Brother


Walter Dean Myers writes nonfiction, short stories, and some amazing novels. Autobiography of My Dead Brother is one of those novels, a National Book Award Finalist, in fact. Myers' descriptions and dialog ring true:

"On a serious tip" -- Calvin held his hand up -- "there was one more thing that Mason asked me about."
"He's out of jail?" Rise asked.
"No, but his trial is coming up soon," Calvin said. "He told me that he wants the Counts to rough up the bodega store owner. Send him a message."
"He wants what?" Benny put his soda down. "And what did you say behind that?"
"The only witness against him is the store owner," Calvin said. "He said that if we went over and pushed him, you know, scared him, he probably wouldn't testify."
"Yo, man, that is so not together," Benny said. "The dude's in jail and looking for company. He ain't getting my mama's child for a roommate."
"He said he didn't do it," Calvin said. "He said the Man is jacking him up and the store owner is going along with it."
"I'm not messing with it," Benny said. "You can bet on that."
"I didn't even hear what you said," Gun said.
"I got to decide." Rise had draped his sweater over a box and now picked it up and started putting it on. "Maybe we should be the no-Counts instead of the Counts. I don't know, if we're not willing to stand up for each other, maybe we should forget about the rest of the thing and just move on in our separate ways. No big thing. Eventually you reach manhood, then you got to go through or turn around and go back."
"This isn't about manhood," C.J. said. "This is about crime."

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme

Remember learning nursery rhymes when you were a kid? Ever wonder what Jack and Jill were doing? Ever think that maybe Andrew Dice Clay was onto something? Then Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme: The seamy and quirky stories behind favorite nursery rhymes by Chris Roberts is the book for you.

Jack and Jill went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.


One saucy explanation of this rhyme is that "up the hill to fetch a pail of water" is actually a euphemism for having sex and that "losing your crown" means losing your virginity (in much the same way that people might "go to see a man about a dog" or get up to ab it of "how's your father" if they want to be vague about what they are doing). So here you have a rhyme about a young couple slipping off for a bit of "slap and tickle" and the regrets that come later. This may explain why Jill is the one most severely punished in the additional verses once her mother realizes that she has been frolicking in the hills with jack. It is interesting that Jack runs off rapidly, probably to tell his mates about what happened.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Rex Riders by J.P. Carlson

Earlier this year we had the mash-up of Cowboys & Aliens (plus James Bond and Indiana Jones) which, whether you liked it or not, was a killer idea. Now consider taking cowboys and aliens and adding in dinosaurs. (Yes, dinosaurs!!!) Intrigued by all the potential awesomeness? Well then you need to take a look at Rex Riders where J.P Carlson has done exactly that as well as giving readers some classic western writing and good guys and bad guys and horses and stage coaches and a rampaging triceratops.

Come on, you know you're curious!

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Bronxwood -- Coe Booth

Cybils season has commenced, as I'm sure you already know.

(If not, where have you been? And more importantly, go nominate your favorites! You only have until October 15th: Better to do it now, while you're thinking of it, instead of planning to do it later only to realize on the 16th that you've missed the deadline.)

This year, I'm one of the YA panelists. I'll be reading a whole lot of books in a short period of time, which means lots and lots of short reviews.

Without further ado: A bit about Bronxwood.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

He Said, She Said- If I Stay + Where She Went by Gayle Forman


Welcome to He Said, She Said, a feature for GuysLitWire in which a guy (Book Chic) and a gal (Little Willow) discuss books that will appeal to both genders. Previously, we've discussed novels such as Soulless by Christopher Golden (zombie apocalypse now!) and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Today, we’re discussing Gayle Forman’s connected novels, If I Stay and Where She Went.

LW: If I Stay is the story of Mia, a teenager who slips into a coma after a tragic car accident that kills the rest of her family. She can see those who visit her in the hospital, and she also reflects on her past. How did you feel reading her thoughts?


BC: I really felt like I was reading about a real person. The way Forman sets up the story, moving between the present with Mia watching the people visiting her in the hospital and the past with Mia reminiscing about her life, was a really great way of getting across Mia’s personality and life story. It also shows why it’s such a tough decision for her to stay or go; it isn’t cut and dry. Going through Mia’s life was good too because Forman encapsulated so many different, various memories- happy, sad, funny, embarassing, romantic, etc.- that the reader really gets to know Mia through the book.

LW: I liked getting to know Mia through her memories. Even though I knew the premise of the book before reading the first page, the scene with the accident still hit me hard, and made me wish that it could have been prevented. To then follow the path of the person who would become the sole survivor or the final victim of that tragedy - I think I often held my breath while reading this book because I was so worried that Mia wouldn’t make it. After reading If I Stay, did you think there would/should be a sequel?

BC: I didn’t think there would be a sequel at all. I felt like it ended really well but this isn’t your usual sequel which I think made it work so well.

LW: How do you feel about the sequel principle in general?

BC: I think it’s become the norm in YA. It’s like everything I read is the first in a trilogy and there’s hardly any standalone books anymore. I love spending more time with characters as much as the next bookaholic, but sometimes I just want a book to, y’know, END, and not always be a cliffhanger. I do also think that sometimes there is a need for more than one book but other times, not so much and it can feel like the author is just trying to make a story longer even though it should have just been one book. So essentially, I don’t mind sequels, but I do also like to see standalone books published.

LW: Were you happy with the sequel, Where She Went? Did you like knowing what happened to Mia after the end of If I Stay?



BC: I was really happy with it and thought Forman did a really wonderful job. The switch of POV and taking place three years later was a good decision and it just made sense.

LW: I applaud Gayle Forman for giving Adam a voice of his own. Where She Went can really stand on its own. The narrators of these two books have different personalities, different tones, different priorities, and different interpretations of past events and memories.

BC: I was a bit wary before reading Where She Went because I wasn’t sure if it could be pulled off and if it would be as good as If I Stay was, but I shouldn’t doubt Forman. She’s such a good writer. I did like seeing what happened to Mia afterward and just spending time with her and Adam again even though it was a bit awkward at times, lol.

LW: Where She Went showed us characters we knew as teenagers now a little older, truly young adults. I feel as if there aren’t enough books with narrators of that age. Did you like Adam’s narration?

BC: I did! Forman did a great job writing from Adam’s POV, though at times, I did just want Adam to cheer up, lol. But the reader really gets into his head and sees how much he loves Mia, both now and before the events of If I Stay. It was good to see that perspective.

LW: Both Mia and Adam are musicians. I really wanted to hear them play. Whose music would draw you in first, Mia’s classic cello performances or Adam’s rock band?

BC: Neither really. I’m more of a pop/dance person but if I had to choose, I’d pick Mia. After reading Adam’s lyrics throughout Where She Went, I’m not sure it’s the kind of rock I’d like to listen to. Plus, I do like classical a bit more than rock music.

LW: Try the group Bond. You might like them.

BC: I actually already know about them and LOVE them. I really need to get their new album soon (just found out it got released, lol).

LW: Enjoy the music!

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

GUNNERKRIGG COURT VOL. 2: RESEARCH by Tom Siddell

The first volume of this series, Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation was last year's Cybils winner for YA graphic novels--and a winner for me, as a fan of fantasy series like Sandman that bring in a wide range of mythological and magical elements that seem disparate but somehow come together. I also enjoyed the blend of science, clockworks, and magic, which gave it a sort of steampunk feel. So I was pleased to find Vol. 2 in my library and continue the tale of Antimony Carver and her friend Kat at a very mysterious school—one which happens to adjoin a wild forest populated by faeries, spirits, animal-gods, and other non- and quasi-human inhabitants.

As before, I was immediately engaged by both the artwork and its visual style as well as the surreal setting and wide range of quirky characters, each with their own story. I love the references to various different mythologies, whose coexistence is never quite explained—at least, not yet. We don't yet know the secrets of this odd place, of this setting which contains magical (or "etheric") elements as well as science. Though fans of school stories like the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books would probably enjoy this one, Gunnerkrigg is no Hogwarts. Though it, too, hides secrets everywhere and has a few ghosts hanging about, nothing is quite as clear-cut; there's no easy division between wizards and muggles, no complete separation between life and death and clockwork, between human and faerie.

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