Teeth issues defined Raina’s adolescence and Smile is an autobiographical graphic novel that follows her from 6th grade to 10th grade. When she first found out she needed braces to correct an overbite, she didn’t want them. Then one night after a Girl Scout meeting, she falls and knocks her two front teeth out (well, one was actually shoved up into her gum. *shudder*). Suddenly braces are the least of her problems! Over the next few years, her dentist tries every trick: he fuses her teeth to her bone; they don’t take. He pulls them and gives her fake teeth on a retainer. She gets headgear (she only has to wear it at night, thankfully). She gets braces and they attempt to shift her teeth and make new front teeth. Meanwhile, Raina is desperately trying to be normal and fit in at school, get a boy to notice her, and find friends who accept her for who she is. You know, she’s a teen.
Raina is about a year and a half older than me, so the pop culture of her teen years was also the pop culture of mine. She goes to see The Little Mermaid (although she acts too cool for it) and comes out mesmerized and convinced she wants to be an animator. She breaks with her longtime group of friends after years of small abuses and one unforgivable public humiliation, and that opens her up to finding like-minded friends who encourage her creativity. Raina does a great job of capturing special moments like finding out your passion could be a career, obsessing over a boy who has never even spoken to you, or realizing your friends aren’t really your friends. Her style of illustration is colorful, bold and straightforward. The art and text go together seamlessly, an advantage of being an author-illustrator, I imagine.
I felt sick reading the panels where Raina falls and is rushed to the dentist. Knocking out my teeth is a big fear of mine. Most fears I can manage by avoiding them, like roller coasters or public speaking, but losing my teeth could happen any number of ways! Anyone who knows me well knows that I love teeth. It’s what I look at when people speak and I’m positive I could recognize anyone I know (and most celebrities) from the nose down.As I read Smile, I kept flipping to look at the author photo in the back and I’m impressed! Everything looks normal. Raina never mentions what anything costs in the book, but I wonder the price tag on her smile. In any case, she turned her dental horror into a great coming-of-age story that won the 2011 Eisner Award for Best Publication for a Teen Audience. I hope she continues to mine her teen years for more awesome graphic novels!
Travis' Book Review: Joker: Death of the Family by Scott Snyder and others
Writer Scott Snyder, whose Batman titles The Black Mirror and Night of the Owls are being heralded as some of the best comic runs ever, came up with the concept of recruiting all the writers in the current Batman universe to write about a single event – the return of the Joker. Having been absent from comic books for over a year, the last appearance of the Joker was in an early run of Tony S. Daniels’ Detective Comics when the Joker allowed another Gotham psycho to cut his face off before he disappeared from the world of TheNew 52. A year later, the Joker suddenly reappears in Gotham wearing his old face as a mask, permanently revealing both the grit and grin beneath. The Joker also reveals that he has been busy, and by sporting a mechanic’s jumpsuit complete with the nametag Joe (instead of his old purple tuxedo), he shows everyone that he’s a working man. He’s spent the past year plotting his most nefarious and elaborate joke, yet – making Batman stronger. In the Joker’s demented mind, however, making Batman stronger means freeing him from the burden of friends and family. And it’s time for him to go to work.
A collaboration of 9 different series, each with different writers, Joker: Death of the Familyis a lofty undertaking that works much better in theory than in practice. While the premise stays intact within the confines of the nearly 500 pages, the story is jumbled and often jumps around without any continuity. The reader gets to see what happens to Batman and his allies (Batgirl, Nightwing, Robin, etc.), but since the events happened as individual parts of their own story, the compendium lacks any transition between the individual plots. The individual stories of most of the characters have also been edited for relevant information, like exposition. If the reader wants to fully engage with their favorite non-Batman hero, or even villain in some instances, he or she will have to read that character’s series. For most part, reading the compendium is like reading the newspaper headlines and not the articles – you know what happened, but you don’t know all of the details.
Even so, the plot still develops and concludes with enough cohesiveness that the reader sees the big picture – which, in essence, is the goal of any collection. Be warned, though, that the collection, and its parts, can be a bit gruesome and is only recommended for older teens and above. For example, the book includes some crowbars to the head, a little bit of face-removal, and at one point, the Joker even creates a human tapestry reminiscent of The Human Centipede. Quite often, the violence can detract from the story, seemingly only there for shock value. If the writers wanted to use violence to push the demented villain further than he ever has gone before, then some Batman fans, like me, could potentially see the effort as juvenile and even disrespectful to the legacy of the comics. So, Joker: Death of the Family is definitely not for the squeamish. That said, Jokeris still a must read for any fan of Batman that lacks either the means or desire to read the separate series, simply to appreciate the magnitude of the event, love it or hate it. For casual comic readers, though, you’ll get just as much from the story by simply reading Batman Vol. 3.
Jennifer's Book Review: The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter
Cammie Morgan attends the prestigious Gallagher Academy, an all-girls school for gifted students. Or, at least that’s what the brochure says. What it doesn’t say is that it’s also an all-girls school for spies-in-training. The school invites the best and the brightest girls, beginning in sixth grade, to learn about picking locks, weapons and all forms of espionage. Cammie is a legacy, and her mother is the headmistress.
The series is an amusing, fast-paced and totally unrealistic read. Cammie and her friends manage to solve international crimes and mysteries that adults can’t, and they generally outsmart any baddie they come up against. While the adventures get more and more dangerous as the girls age (from 15 to 18), the contents do not “age” with the character as some other series do. The romance is minimal (moving from flirting to handholding to chaste kisses), and while there is some violence, it’s not very detailed (Cammie does kill two people in self-defense and witnesses the deaths of other people). It is important to read this series in order because it has an ongoing adventure throughout the series—the mysterious secret society the Circle of Cavan wants Cammie dead, and she’s determined to discover why.
This book isn’t without its faults. It definitely has its fill of token (geek, minority) characters who serve as Cammie’s sidekicks. Most characters are completely one-dimensional, and the girls in the school, except for level-headed Cammie, all act like annoying stereotypical teenage girls when in the presence of boys and handsome professors. Additionally, the premise is not very believable. Training girls from the age of 12 up to become spies (and having them perform actual, deadly missions in their upper teens) is unlikely, so warn potential readers that they will be required to suspend their disbelief!
Despite these issues, the series is a fun action-adventure romp, with just a small bit of romance sprinkled in. It ends on a happily-ever-after note, and the series could easily be transformed into a Disney TV show or movie. I’d recommend this to middle-grades teens who are looking for a laugh-out-loud, easy-to-read series.
 The most risqué thing in the final novel is this line: “But Zach’s hand was warm in mine, and I didn’t feel the chill, even when he stopped me on the stairs, pressed me against the wall, and kissed me. Softly at first, then more urgently, hungrily. It was like he hadn’t eaten in weeks.” And that’s it. They pull apart, and talk. And that’s only in the last book…the earlier books have even less. p.s. Does it sound like he’s trying to eat her face to anyone else? Seriously…like he hadn’t eaten in weeks? Ick.
To highlight the many great tech resources available at your local library, we’re having a fun and easy contest! During the month of March, visit this www.facebook.com/scplteens and post your favorite library tech resource OR something you’ve learned to DIY because of the library.* Tag your post with #TTW14.
On April 1st, we’ll draw a winner at random to win a $50 Amazon gift card.
If you’re not on Facebook, you can email your entry to email@example.com, and we’ll post it for you. For teens ages 12-18 or in grades 7-12.
Heather's Book Review: Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries, Volume 1 by Hey-Jin Jeon
Lizzie Newton is equal parts Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes, a budding mystery writer who does more than write mysteries—She solves them, too. No one wants to believe this of her, though, because this is the Victorian era, after all, and women don’t do that sort of thing. This is why Lizzie must hide her talents behind a masculine pen name and send her deductions through her lawyer-in-training fiancé, Edwin. But this doesn’t stop her from traipsing onto crime scenes as she sees fit, prodding corpses, and showing up everyone who thinks she’s wrong with a cute grin and the power of logic and science.
I didn’t expect much of Hey-jin Jeon’s Lizzie Newton: Victorian MysteriesVolume 1 simply because I’d never heard of it before. Now that I’ve finished it, I can’t help but wonder why. It’s a true gem of a comic.
What’s most impressive about Lizzie Newton is the number of things that could have gone wrong in the comic compared to the number of things that it did very well. The illustration on the cover—wide-eyed Lizzie, smiling sweetly in a frilly dress—led me to expect the adventures of a vapid girly-girl who stumbles clumsily but adorably into her solutions because that’s what happens in manga where the protagonist is a cute girl. Lizzie is anything but. While she is absent-minded, it’s in an intellectual way—She’s so distracted by the thrill of solving a mystery that it never occurs to her that it is NOT OK to poke her finger into the bullet hole in a corpse’s head before the police even arrive to investigate the scene. And though she is, for all appearances, a cute Victorian lady with limited practical sense, there’s a real brain behind that bonnet, and a personal collection of books and scientific equipment to back it up. She’s a perfect combination of “feminine” cuteness and “masculine” logic, without being an exaggeration of either. Her relationship with Edwin is also refreshingly positive. Edwin himself is a capable (as opposed to amusingly bumbling) companion. Though he does, of course, become exasperated with Lizzie’s absent-mindedness, he’s ultimately supportive of her investigative hobbies and does what he can to make Lizzie’s discoveries known—in her name. In fact, in addition to portraying a female protagonist who is productively interested in science (as opposed to using science for comedic, explosive effect), the comic makes a notable effort to say, “You know that famous male scientist who discovered that thing? Yeah, half of that work was done by an un-credited woman” (in this face, Ada Lovelace, who wrote the language for the Analytical Engine that preceded Charles Babbage’s unfinished Difference Engine). Yet none of these feministic elements are ever preachy. Lizzie Newton is definitely a Girl Power/Girl-Who-is-GASP-Interested-In-Science book, but it’s more interested in its amusing characters and the details of its plot to dwell on the social concerns that it brings up.
Plot-wise, it’s an interesting whodunit, though the process Lizzie follows to solve the mystery is more interesting than the mystery itself. I never really cared about who may or may not have killed whom in the story, but that was mostly because 1) they were background characters anyway, and 2) the rest of the comic is more interesting.
The art in the book is also worth a mention. The detail that artist Ki-ha Lee puts into costumes and settings is reminiscent of Yana Toboso’s Black Butler, as is the occasional tonal shift between dark, dramatic illustration and funny chibis. In fact, I’d go as far to say that this manga is what Black Butler would be if it involved a detective and an actual point. Tonally, the two are almost identical (even if their stories are ABSOLUTELY dissimilar). The care put into the artwork also recalls Kaoru Mori’sEmma, which was noted for its artist’s obsessive interest in Victorian details, even if her character designs were a bit blah. Lee’s designs lean more toward Toboso’s distinct, expressive characters. Either way, the artwork is lovely and enough reason, on its own, to read the book.
Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries Volume 1, then, is an excellent manga for readers who enjoy a good mystery with wonderful art, a dash of scientific investigation, and a sneaky lot of girl power spunk. (Note: The back of the book claims that it also contains “a spot of Jane Austen,” which it doesn’t, unless you count the fact that Lizzie shares a name with one of Austen’s protagonists. Also Jane Austen was Regency, not Victorian, so GET YOUR LITERARY PERIODS STRAIGHT, MARKETERS. Anyway, regardless, Austenites are likely to enjoy it because frilly dresses and pride-and-prejudice-smackdowns and stuff.)
Susan's Book Review: Amelia Cole and the Unknown World by Adam Knave
Full disclosure: I know this graphic novel exists and read it because I went to college with D.J. Kirkbride, one of the authors. I was worried I wouldn’t like it and would end up lying to him about it, but I’m super happy to report that I enjoyed it! It’s unlike any other graphic novel I’ve read, yet it definitely has some familiar elements. Amelia is a mage who lives in two different worlds: a magical and a non-magical. Only she and her Aunt Dani can cross between the worlds, until one day when Amelia runs into a demon in the non-magical world. Dani decides the risk of crossing is too great and seals the portal forever, dying in the process. Just before she passes, Dani confesses that there aren’t just two worlds and in fact, Amelia is from a third. In shock and on the run from police because of magical disturbances, Amelia locates a glowing door in Dani’s basement and uses it to escape into what turns out to be the unknown world.
The door is one-way, so she’s stuck there, reeling from the loss of her only family and dealing with the knowledge that this new world even exists. She needs a friend, so she uses her magic to conjure a golem out of the rubble where she landed. She goes exploring and finds that this world seems like the other two realms smashed together. There’s magic, but not everyone has it, and some people stare when she uses it. She has nothing, but quickly lucks into a job as the super of an apartment building (which conveniently comes with a studio apartment) and she makes fast friends with some locals.
Unfortunately, drama follows Amelia and it’s not long before she’s gotten the attention of local police and someone known as the Protector. There’s also a shadowy figure governed by some sort of council who’s pulling the strings of the Protector. Aunt Dani said she promised Amelia’s parents she’d keep her safe and that’s why she kept the world a secret, so chances are Amelia is someone more important than she realizes.
I really enjoyed the character of Amelia. She’s smart, sarcastic, and genuinely wants to help people. I like how that’s a natural drive of hers and I don’t need an origin story to know why, it’s just the way she is. Lemmy, the golem, can’t speak, but he’s a loyal and selfless companion who is also a hard worker, so I’m a big fan! I had a little trouble following the story with a bunch of narration happening via caption boxes, but I think that’s more an issue with me and how I process the panels. I’m excited for Amelia’s next adventure and might even seek out the monthlies!
Travis' Book Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
Ten years ago, Calamity happened.A burst of red light suddenly appeared in the sky, and a small percentage of people around the world developed amazing powers and abilities. The ones who gained power are called Epics, and many are so strong they can change entire landscapes and world infrastructures with little more than a thought. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, however, and the strongest Epics quickly began to fight over and claim territories, recruiting weaker Epics, destroying governments, and enslaving all of those without power.
Eighteen-year-old David lost everything in Calamity. Caught in the middle of an Epic’s rampage, he learned quickly that the world has no superheroes. His father believed the heroes would come, though; that they would appear and save them from the tyranny of the Epics. For that belief, David’s father paid with his life. Trying to protect his son, trying to defend an Epic he mistook for a hero, David watched as his father was brutally murdered by Steelheart, one of the most powerful Epics in the world - the same Epic his father was trying to protect. Before he was killed, though, David’s father did something that no one had done before or has done since – he made Steelheart bleed. Enraged, Steelheart went on a rampage that ended with the Epic turning the entire landscape of Chicago into steel before declaring himself the city’s leader. Ten years later, David is the only surviving witness to the events of the day that led to Steelheart being wounded. Armed with that memory, David seeks to join the Reckoners, a resistance movement dedicated to killing Epics, with one goal in mind – kill Steelheart.
Steelheart is a novel that simply should not work, and if anyone other than Brandon Sanderson wrote it, it probably wouldn’t. The novel is basically a smorgasbord of YA and comic book clichés. It is set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic near-future, has an average and clumsy (especially with words) teenage protagonist, clean curse-words (Sparks!) and features a mysterious insta-love inspiring character with hidden abilities that continuously makes the protagonist lose focus. The super-powered characters and freedom fighters in the novel are all Sanderson’s take on comic and pop cultural icons. Steelheart is literally, the “Man of Steel,” while other epics have powerful psychic abilities like Professor X, foresight and agility like Spiderman, and one even has the power to never run out of bullets, which is most likely a reference to 80s action movies starring guys like Schwarzenegger. The individual aspects of the novel are all far from being original ideas, and any comic book fan will find a lot familiarity in the Epics’ powers. Some readers may even recognize that the Reckoners are basically The A-Team, including driving a van! While some of these references may seem like a parody, Sanderson’s fans, who recognize his fantasy literature prowess and general awesomeness, will probably read the novel as being satirical of both genres. I mean, come on, a guy famous for being a ghost-writer of one of the largest epic fantasy series calls his villains the Epics!
In spite of the lack of the originality in its individual elements, though, Sanderson must have channeled the spirit of the guy that first combined cookie dough and vanilla ice cream because he turns two simple, familiar, and well-known elements into something far more satisfying than its parts. From start to finish, Steelheartis an action-filled adventure, full of twists and turns and plenty of cliffhangers. Just the pacing of the novel shows that Sanderson is a master of his craft, and he fully engages the reader with his world-building and direction. Some of the elements of the novel seem to come out of nowhere simply for the sake of pushing the plot, though, like the fact that every Epic has a secret weakness, whether it makes sense or not. One Epic’s power is nullified by being attracted to a woman, for example, and others could be a word, a symbol, a specific date, or any random number of possibilities. Even this element, though, helps the reader join the ride as the main characters use David’s experience to find out what can kill Steelheart. Every element, however, including the technology used by the Reckoners, the characters’ pasts and personalities, and David’s memory are all pieces of one big puzzle that culminate into an exciting climax and conclusion. Steelheartkeeps the reader excited, keeps the reader guessing, and more importantly, keeps the reader reading. It is a wonderful book that I would definitely recommend to older teens looking for an exciting read, especially guys since the narrator is an 18-year-old guy, and comic book fans. Be warned that the novel is full of violence, with dozens of deaths, including an infant, just in the opening pages. So, the novel is probably not appropriate for younger or more conservative readers.
Jennifer's Book Review: Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang
In Boxers by Gene Luen Yang, Little Bao is born into a world in which China is run by corrupt officials and foreign missionaries and soldiers. The imaginative boy is constantly picked on by his brothers, and he’s shocked when a foreign priest destroys his village’s representation of a local earth god. Five years later, a man enters Bao’s village and begins training the men of the village how to fight and protect themselves. Despite Bao’s desire to learn, his brothers mock him and refuse to let him join the training. The teacher, Red Lantern Chu, begins teaching Bao kung fu in private. When Red Lantern takes the men to protect a nearby village, Bao is denied the opportunity to join them. Red Lantern instead sends Bao to a mysterious man on a mountain for spiritual training.
When tragedy strikes, Bao is filled with rage and a need for vengeance. He is graced with the power of many Chinese gods and ancestors, and after teaching others to harness their power, he and his newly formed band, the Disciples of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist, begin roaming the country, protecting villages and travelers from “foreign devils.” However, the band begins to take a nasty turn when they deem all followers of Christianity to be “secondary devils,” and Bao, as leader, demands that they, too, must die. They stop focusing on defending the innocent and begin leading attacks on foreign cities.
In the companion graphic novel, Saints, an unwanted fourth-born daughter called Four-Girl searches for acceptance and love, which her family doesn’t provide. She finds it, and a new name – Vibiana, in Christianity. Vibiana has a very minor role in Boxers, and her story is fleshed out here. Saints fails as a standalone graphic novel, but it complements Boxersvery well and brings an additional viewpoint to the rebellion.
Like Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, the artwork is simple and attractive. Color plays important roles in Boxers & Saints. The majority of the books are in muted, earthen tones, but when Vibiana and Bao interact with their spiritual figures, colors scream into the scene. Golden, warm tones fill Vibiana’s visions, while a multitude of hues make up Chinese spirits and Bao’s dreams.
Neither Bao nor Vibiana is very likeable as the stories progress. In the beginning, readers will feel sympathy and understanding for both character’s plights, but Vibiana’s selfishness and Bao’s zealotry make them unpleasant. Bao’s desire for a free China is an admirable goal, but his insistence to kill every man, woman and child who follow Christianity will remove some of the reader’s sympathy.
Ultimately, Boxers & Saintsintroduces a little-known rebellion (to Western readers) that occurred in the late 1890s in China. It’s a fascinating history, and the largest omission in the text is a lack of an afterword giving information about the Boxer Rebellion. I think a bit of context would increase enjoyment in this graphic novel duet even more. Fortunately, a list of additional reading is provided at the end of both books, and I fully intend to read more about it. Overall, this series is a page-turner, and I fully recommend to readers of all ages.
We have a lot of new faces at SCPL Teens! Next, meet Wing, our new Teen Assistant at the Boiling Springs Branch!
Hometown: Spartanburg, SC
Education and Work Background: Clemson University (Class of 2013)
Family: Parents - Hon and May; Sister - Winky
Hobbies: Reading, Singing, Photography, Listening to Music and Watching Korean Dramas
Favorite Quote: "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on." - Robert Frost
Favorite Teen Books:Looking for Alaska by John Green, Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, and A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Favorite Non-Teen Books: Queen of Babble by Meg Cabot
Recently Read:The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen
Why you want to work with teens: Back when I was a teenager, I was active in the different Teen programs at the library. Through these Teen programs, I was able to feel a sense of belonging and to develop a love for helping others. Now that I have a chance to work with Teens, I want to give the future generations of Teens the same sense of belonging in the community and to offer my guidance to them throughout their teenage years at the library.
Seek the Unknown @ The Library: Teen Read Week (October 13-19th)
Teen Read Week is almost here, and we’re celebrating by holding three fun contests throughout the month of October! Entry forms for all contests can be picked up at any SCPL location.
Candy Counting Contest: We’ve placed jars stuffed with candy at each of our 10 branches. Correctly guess how many pieces of candy are in the jar at your branch (or come the closest), and you could win all the candy AND a $20 Regal Cinema gift card!
Design a Bookmark Contest: Create a bookmark using the Teen Read Week theme—“Seek the Unknown @ the Library”—and you could win a $100 gift card to Michael’s! The winning design will be professionally printed and distributed at all SCPL locations.
-To be eligible to win, participating teens, or someone living at the teen’s permanent residence, must be a full-privilege Spartanburg County Public Library cardholder.
-Design can be full color and must be 1.5” x 7” and include the 2013 Teen Read Week theme. Digital entries must be 300 dpi and saved as a .jpg, .pdf, .tiff, or .eps.
-Entries need to be accompanied by the artist’s name, address, phone #, age and grade in school, and can be turned in to any Spartanburg County Public Library location or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Entries will be judged based on originality, use of theme, and design. The contest ends October 31st, and the winner will be announced in November.
Seek The Unknown: A curiously unusual book titled The Unknown is hidden in plain sight in the teen collection at each branch. Seek The Unknown, then follow the directions within to win a sweet treat!
Teen Book Review: Little Women and Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Emily March is tired of being a middle sister. So when she gets an assignment to describe one thing she’d change about a classic novel, Little Women is an easy choice. After all, if Emily can’t fix things in her own family, she might as well bring a little justice to the other March sisters. But when Emily gets mysteriously transported into the 1860s world of the March sisters, she discovers that righting fictional wrongs won’t be as easy as she thought.—adapted from inside cover
This book showed a lot of imagination and really got you thinking! How can you decide between saving sweet Beth or marrying Jo to Laurie? Or worse, what if you're in love with Laurie yourself?Little Women and Meetches a nice picture in your mind, giving you an idea of what living in the March sisters’ time period must have felt like. Something new and exciting was always happening, and it must be noted that the jealousy between Emily and her newfound sister Jo was so lifelike, you could relate to it perfectly! I liked this book because it gave you an idea of how you would fit into such an environment. The feelings expressed were so real you almost felt like they were talking about you! I also thought it was interesting how the author wrote such feeling and personality into each character. I really think you would enjoy reading this book if you love adventures, romance, emotions, decisions and plenty of vivid imagination!
Emily's Book Review: The Life of Glass by Jillian Cantor
Glass is fragile and likely to break from a single drop, but it takes a million years to decay. The night her father died, Melissa and her friend Ryan found a piece of glass in “the wash,” a large dry riverbed they ride their bikes through, looking for treasure. When she came home, her dad’s last words to her were about the glass, and she’s held on to it ever since, a talisman she keeps in her pocket along with his memory. It’s now the start of Melissa’s freshman year, a year and a half since his passing, and it seems that everyone in her family is moving on except her. Melissa’s mother is starting to date again, and her older sister Ashley is no comfort, never giving her a ride to school and always calling her “the imp” to her friends. Other parts of her life are changing as well—Ryan starts dating the pretty new girl Courtney, causing Melissa to realize she’s had feelings for him all along. Melissa has always felt less than beautiful, and with her father gone, she’s left to be the ugly duckling in a house of swans, as her mom and sister are both literal pageant queens. His journal is her only solace, but one day, when she finds a note reminding him to call a strange woman, she realizes he may have had a secret she can’t bear to leave in the past.
Life of Glass is the story of a girl who is coming into her own with a past she can’t leave behind. Jillian Cantor writes in gorgeous, metaphorical prose, weaving Melissa’s dad’s facts about glass and stars and other everyday items into a story about human relationships. Like glass, Melissa realizes that human life itself is fragile and that our connections to those we love are easily broken, but the impact we leave on one another can take a lifetime to fade away. I’m excited that I’ve discovered Jillian Cantor’s writing, and I can’t wait to read more of her novels.
Travis' Book Review: Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
Sixteen-year-old James Whitman confides in Walt Whitman’s poetry, not just because they share the same name, but because they both see the things that everyone else seems to miss – the beauty in a blade of grass or the quiet weeping of a tree.James takes comfort in hugging trees (literally) because they are the unsung heroes of the world, living and dying in silence as they slowly suck poisons from the air. He, too, lives in silence, always in a state of quiet introspection. He silently watches from the social sidelines of high school, and he silently watched as his sister, Jorie, was subjected to emotional abuse from their parents, the Banshee and the Beast. He even kept quiet as his sister was expelled from school and thrown out of the house. Now, James really misses his sister, but some other kind of pain is really starting to affect him.
James really wants to be happy, to find joy in the world and celebrate being alive, but simply can’t.Maybe there’s something wrong with his internal wiring, something in his blood that makes him anxious and depressed. Maybe he was born with a strange darkness that causes him to have suicidal thoughts. To help him cope, James creates an imaginary therapist, a giant pigeon named Dr. Bird, but she can only tell him what he already knows about himself. Also, glassy-eyed looks, head bobbing, and coos can only help so much. So, James starts looking into the events that forced his sister to leave him alone with their parents, thinking he can find a way to bring her back home and help them both. The more he digs, though, the more he finds out about her secret struggles, some very similar to his own, and the more he begins to understand what he must do – he needs to find real help. But what will help? Therapy? Anti-depressants? The affection of his crush? Maybe he should simply let his feelings be known, putting a resounding exclamation point onto the words of Whitman, “I, too, am untranslatable; I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world!”
Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets tackles the subject of mental illness in teens with a combination of poetic grace and serious narrative. Evan Roskos does a nice job syncing the poetry of Whitman into his own prose, creating a story that juxtaposes the observations of the poet with the life of a teenager suffering from depression. Unfortunately, the book may come off as a bit lacking to some because the plot is very uneventful, and James isn’t always a reliable narrator. While James, himself, is typically well-written, his parents aren’t exactly depicted as the Beast and Banshee that he dubs them to be. And Dr. Bird? Well, she is a minor character at best, not showing up nearly as often as the title of the novel would suggest. James’ voice and thoughts, however, are pretty accurate in regards to the nature of an adolescent male. James’ observations of his crush are actually quite descriptive and endearing, giving insight to both the character’s feelings and the writer’s ability. Even with quality writing, though, the story continually feels like it is written for the sole purpose of making a single point – that point being that depression in teens is often not simply angst, but can actually be a serious disease. While that point is very well handled, it may be lost on a casual reader that’s expecting an inspiring journey of self-discovery where some singular event changes the main character’s perspective on life and ends on a happy note.That just not how it works in life, so that’s not how it works in the novel.
At times, Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets can become quite sad and for no real reason, other than that’s how the main character feels. Roskos was wise to add a giant imaginary bird to the mix because it gives the reader a chance to enjoy a bit of absurdism, bringing the reader, ironically, back to reality. It also takes a keen writer, especially one that understands teen guys, to be able add humor to the seriousness of the issues discussed. Roskos manages to do so. He also manages to address the fact that there is no single magical cure for depression, and what works for one, may not work for others. For some, it takes time, effort, and a deep understanding of the self to start the ascent to happiness. This is James’ journey. It’s a realistic depiction of the teenage-self that should be experienced by any teenager that has ever suffered from the often confusing feelings of anxiety and depression.
Fire is the prequel to Graceling, a fantasy book I read and loved years ago. I was super excited when Fire was first released in 2009, only to start it, recognize none of the characters, and promptly quit. Cut to this summer when I accepted a TSR book review from a teen that loved Fire and convinced me to give it another shot. I didn’t fly through it like I did Graceling, but I did finish it this time!
Firetakes its title from the main character, the last human monster in the Dells. There are monster versions of many animals (monsters=mad colorful and often dangerous) all over the kingdom. Fire is almost too beautiful to look at and must cover her flaming red hair so as to not attract unwanted attention. She can also enter minds and control them if she wishes. Her father did that and was a monster in every sense of the word, so she is very careful with her powers. The story begins in Fire’s hometown where we meet her best friend, Archer, and his father Brocker, who is also a kind of father to her. Fire’s life there has been borderline sleepy, so when King Nash requests her help, she’s anxious to leave and see the big city.
The Dells are mired in a mess of politics that will eventually lead to war. King Nash, his military leader and brother, Brigan, and the rest of the royal family are hopeful that Fire will help them with intelligence gathering so they might be better prepared. Fire resists on principle at first, but eventually sees she has the chance to use her powers for good and relents. The city suits her, so she stays, and Archer and Brocker eventually join her there. Fantastical worlds can be challenging because they have different rules, slang, creatures, countries, races, etc. and it’s so much to remember. I’m sure some of the strategic war talk was lost on me because I couldn’t keep that information straight and as a result didn’t understand (or really care) what was at stake, but I don’t feel like it affected my enjoyment of the book.
In many stories where there is a kingdom, there is pressure to marry (and often not for love), but that’s not the case in Fire. Instead, the characters are free to love whomever they want and even having babies out of wedlock carries no shame. The story develops slowly and meanders, but I liked the characters enough to keep reading and every 100 pages or so there’d be a new revelation (Archer’s true father! Brigan has a secret daughter!). Fire matures over the course of the book and realizes that no one is all good or all bad, including herself, and the war causes her to find a wonderful purpose for her unique skillset. She can enter people’s minds to soothe them and take away their pain, in some instances even bringing them back from the brink of death. I’m also happy to report that while several animals are important to Fire, they all live to see the end of the book (such a relief!). I’ve been told that I’ll enjoy Bitterblue, last year’s sequel to Graceling, more if I’ve read Fire. I’m excited to see if that’s true, because my favorite parts of Fire include the prologue featuring Leck and every other scene involving Leck, who just happens to be Bitterblue’s psychopath father!
Heather's Book Review: The Order of Odd-Fish by James Kennedy
In the pre-Adventure Time days, there was no easy way to describe James Kennedy’s The Order of Odd-Fish. After all, how does one simply describe a book that is equal parts the sharp-witted observations of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, the snap-quick grotesquerie of Roald Dahl, the cracked-out madness of every late-late-night cartoon, and even the bizarre randomness of a select band of comedy anime? There is no simple way to cover all that. Or at least there wasn’t. Not before Adventure Time. But now I can say this about The Order of Odd-Fish:
This book reads exactly like Adventure Time, and it is a glorious, glorious thing.
From the back cover: Jo Larouche has lived her thirteen years in the California desert with her aunt Lily, ever since she was dropped on Lily’s doorstep with this note: “This is Jo. Please take care of her. But beware. This is a DANGEROUS baby.” Soon worsening circumstances lead Jo and Lily out of California forever—and into the fantastical world of Eldritch City. There Jo learns the scandalous truth about who she really is, and she and Lily join the Order of Odd-Fish, a colorful collection of knights who research useless information. Glamorous cockroach butlers, pointless quests, obsolete weapons, and bizarre festivals fill Jo and Lily’s days, but two villains—one quite silly and one more demonic than you can possibly imagine—control their fate. Jo is inching closer and closer to the day when her destiny will be fulfilled, and no one in Eldritch City will ever be the same.
Odd-Fish is a book unlike any book that I’ve ever read. It shares similarities with the whimsical worlds of Roald Dahl and Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, but takes the absurdity inherent in such worlds and turns it up to eleven, with hilarious results. It might actually be the most hilarious book I’ve ever read.
The amazing thing about Odd-Fish, though, is not that laugh-out-loud moments occur; it’s that they continue, and they keep continuing until you start wondering how much funny can possibly fit into a book and then realize that you’re still on the same scene, and there’s, blissfully, more to come.It’s not typical funny, though.I’ve read humor books that have literally kept me laughing from page to page, but these books all tackle rather normal topics—the humor and quirks of day-to-day activities, for example.Nothing in The Order of Odd-Fishis remotely normal.It is totally and utterly nonsensical and absurd and wonderful and I love it.It is a novel in which the main characters include a Russian colonel with digestion so sensitive it’s semi-conscious, a four-foot-tall talking cockroach who likes fancy purple suits, a Chinese millionaire who wants to be as evil as he can because he’s already done every good thing in the world that he can possibly do and is bored with it, a celebrity prankster terrorist (Just read the book), and a regular girl who is not as regular as she seems—a combination stranger and more eclectic than anything seen even in Eldritch City.It’s a setup so mad that, by all accounts, it shouldn’t work.But it does.Even when it’s using an idea that we’ve already seen (which is rare), it works, and it works brilliantly.
The book’s only significant shortcoming is, fittingly, as odd as the story itself.Odd-Fish is at its best for the first few hundred pages, when it’s simply a string of bizarre adventures involving Jo and her friends.Nearing its end, though, it decides that it needs to settle down and grow an actual plot.The conflict and climax that result are still entertaining, but they don’t have the spirit of the first chunk of the novel, which is disappointing.
Still, fans of the absurd are bound to find a favorite in this novel. The Order of Odd-Fish has a place of honor on my bookshelf, and I eagerly await James Kennedy’s next work, The Magnificent Moots, whenever it finally releases.
Travis' Book Review: Chillax by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman
Sixteen-year-old Jeremy is a future rock god. Jeremy’s band practices every Saturday and he’s been learning the guitar part for “Quintuple Amputee.” If he can just figure out that crazy chord the guitar player for Gingivitis, the “best guitar mayhem band since Flatulent Rat,” uses, he would really get a feel for the heart of the song – too bad that chord is so tough to play it’s rumored to have been outlawed in a few southern states. That’s a different story, though. The real story here is that Jeremy’s friend Tim sold him and his best amigo, Hector, a pair of tickets to the Gingivitis concert. His first real concert! Without his parents! It’s going to be epic – if he and Hector can convince their parents to let them go, that is. Jeremy has been responsible, lately; after all, he did put his own ice cream bowl in the dishwasher when his mom had the flu. Surely that kind of maturity is enough to convince them to let them go. They even teamed up to buy their own car, a VW hippie van so vintage that even the cement blocks it sat on looked “retro and cool.” When Jeremy and Hector find out that Tim actually sold them the concert tickets because he has to donate bone marrow to his sick mother, though, the two friends decide they have to make it to that show and have an epic time – for Tim!
Chillaxis the first novel based on the popular Zits comic strip, written by Jerry Scott and illustrated by Jim Borgman. Like the comics, Chillax is a lot of fun.The novel really expands on the characters of the strip, while maintaining the heart and simple comedic nature of a story that is usually told in 3 panels. Scott’s storytelling and writing style stays true to its comic nature, maintaining a casual voice, never overextending itself, and not taking itself too seriously. The boys’ typical day includes engineering a way to start their van by using Hector’s retainer, mistaking piles of dirty clothes for beds, and procrastinating when it comes to writing a paper on some ancient waterbed scandal involving Richard Nixon. What the writing may lack in eloquence, it more than makes up for in both humor and insight into the mind of a 16-year-old teenage rocker – some of the ideas even hit a little too close to home.
Almost all of the pages are accompanied by Borgman’s simple, yet charming, comic art. Scott and Borgman do a wonderful job transitioning between written and graphic storytelling elements of the book, often using panels to finish a thought or add to the scene – think Diary of a Wimpy Kid, only a little more grown up. The illustrations really capture the characters’ feelings and contribute to the tone of the book. When Tim tells Jeremy why he sold his concert tickets, it’s done on a full page with darkened lines and shadows, highlighting the only words on the page – “My mom has cancer.” It’s a simple, but effective, technique used by a number of comic artists, but it’s a little notion that really adds to the experience of the book and the effectiveness of the storytelling. Some of the artwork is a little distracting, though, and it is often tempting to read the comic panels before actually reading the paragraphs leading up to them. As easy as it is to follow the story, however, this never really becomes an issue.
The world of Zits is modern enough to include social commentary about texting and using Facebook, but the ideas expand across generations. Jeremy dresses like he’s heading to a Pearl Jam show, idolizes a band that could be Motley Crüe, and takes off on a “Detroit Rock City” style adventure. Scott’s writing pays tribute to 40-plus years of hard rock, while simultaneously making fun of it in a way that rock music fans can appreciate. Who wouldn’t want to hear Gingivitis’s hit album Does This Look Infected? The book has a lot of heart, too, exploring different aspects of the relationship between friends and family. For example, while coping with cancer is a major theme in the novel, the subject is dealt with in a positive, uplifting way. Tim’s friends want to find ways to help and support him, and Jeremy is able to learn a lesson about the importance of simply listening to a friend in his time of need. The emotions and revelations are never forced on the reader, but rather feel natural in the progression of the story.
Some of the anecdotes in the story come straight from the comic strip, but fans of Zitswill still find plenty of appeal in the novel. For those not familiar with the comic, the novel is still a quality read and nice introduction to the series. Teens, especially guys with an appreciation for rock music and guitar playing, will love the humor, and at nearly 240 illustration-filled pages, Chillax is even easy enough for middle readers. Fast readers can potentially read it in one sitting! To sum things up, Chillax is a quick, funny read that manages to put a little heart into the sleazy world of rock music. So, Dude, why wouldn’t you read it?
Spoiler alert: The acoustic intro to Gingivitis’s “Quintuple Amputee” is actually plucked on the guitar player’s nipple studs! Who knew?
Jennifer's Book Review: Tarnish by Katherine Longshore
Let me begin by saying I am not a history buff. I’m usually not a big reader of historical fiction, although I have made exceptions from time to time. My knowledge of Anne Boleyn is very, very limited, and it’s mostly what I’ve picked up over the years and what little I learned from watching The Tudors (we all know how factual that was). Basically, what I knew could be boiled down to this: Anne Boleyn was one of the many unlucky wives of Henry VIII. She convinced him to divorce his first wife, which caused the king to split with the Catholic Church. She was unable to give birth to a son, and instead she produced a daughter and some miscarriages. Not too long after their marriage began, it ended: She was accused of adultery and incest, and she was subsequently beheaded. There ends my knowledge of Anne Boleyn.
So in reading my review, understand that I am not going to comment on the factual information that lies within the pages of Tarnish, although the author’s after note discusses her research and how she incorporated historic details and speculation into the novel. I won’t discuss anachronisms, because I’m nowhere near familiar enough with the time period to know what’s accurate and what isn’t. Furthermore, I haven’t read Gilt, the first book in Katherine Longshore’s Tudors series, but fortunately it wasn’t necessarily to understand or enjoy Tarnish.
Now that the disclaimers are complete, on to the review!
Tarnishopens not long after Anne Boleyn returns to the English court, after spending some time away. Her sister is mistress to the king, and Anne enters into service for Queen Katherine. Anne initially left court ages ago because of a minor embarrassment that everyone except her own family has forgotten. Now that she’s back, she’s essentially an outcast, known for her sharp tongue and plain looks. However, poet Thomas Wyatt decides to take her under his wing and teach her how to stand out and how to become admired and pursued. Their friendship is laced with flirtation and occasional jealousy as Wyatt’s plan eventually works. Anne becomes noticed by many men in the court, and eventually even draws the interest of the king, who Anne has admired since she was 13 years old.
Tarnishis not a book about the death of Anne Boleyn. (That’ll be left to the final book in the trilogy.) Rather, it’s about the life of Anne Boleyn. Here is a girl who just wants to live. She doesn’t want to be tethered to the odious James Butler, with whom she’s nearly betrothed. She desires a husband who will bring her acceptance in the court, and she wishes to travel and see the world. She wants her father’s approval and for her brother to once again become the boy she loved as a child. Anne wants to believe in love, and ultimately, she craves power – power over her own destiny and power over others.
The Anne portrayed in Longshore’s novel is not totally innocent, but she is also not as scheming and conniving as some other portrayals make her out to be. She’s young and naïve, but she balances it out with being shrewd and intelligent. No matter what Anne experiences -- turmoil or contentedness, misery or happiness -- the story has an edge of foreboding woven throughout it. Innocuous remarks, such as a comment about Anne’s “little neck,” foreshadow Anne’s ultimate demise. Even though the book ends on a bittersweet, yet upbeat, note, readers will still feel the fear and gloom hanging over her head as she marches toward her unhappy fate.
The tale is beautifully told. Longshore manages to keep readers invested and interested in Anne’s future, despite their knowing its devastating outcome. I absolutely loved this novel, and it makes me want to give more historical fiction books a shot. I cannot recommend it enough.
Susan's Book Review: The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen
I have been a Sarah Dessen fan since I was an actual teenager. I followed her blog for years, I’ve driven hours to see her speak, and I read all of her books. I don’t love all of her books (I’m looking at you Lock & Key), but I do love this one! It’s set in the familiar beach town of Colby (fictional, but it gets more fleshed out each time she writes about it) and stars high school graduate Emaline the summer before she heads off to college. Emaline has been dating good guy Luke since 9th grade and works at her grandmother’s beach house rental agency. She is happy with Luke—she loves Luke—but she can’t decide if it’s what she wants, or what she knows.
Enter Theo and Ivy. Two New Yorkers in Colby to film a documentary on a reclusive local artist who are renting the newest, biggest, and most expensive beach house. Ivy is the abrasive but genius director and Theo is her 21-year-old lapdog assistant. They are needy renters and it’s her job to keep them happy, so Emaline ends up spending time with Theo to show him around town. Then a misunderstanding involving an accidentally unsent text causes friction with Luke, and suddenly they are broken up. Emaline hardly has time to process it before Theo is trying to take Luke’s place. Add in an estranged birth father, a half-brother named Benji (probably my favorite character), a house constantly undergoing renovation, the busy season and a sister trying to be in charge at work, a mom who wants to spend quality time with her daughter before she leaves for college, and an artist coming out of hiding, and Emaline’s carefree summer is anything but.
Dessen’s books have doubled in size since her early titles and sometimes I find them bloated and can almost feel her struggle to piece the story together. This book is the exact opposite—it felt like it was as effortless for her to write it as it was for me to read it. When she is on her game, no one does it better. She is a master of realistic dialogue and creates layered characters (not just the main ones either—I know the backstory of the guy who owns the convenience store) that have chemistry on the page and whose lives you become invested in. I hate when an author tells me two people are in love. I want them to show me, and Dessen does. I know realistic fiction doesn’t really involve world-building, except it kind of does, because I don’t even like the beach, and she makes me want to visit Colby!
Emily's Book Review: Eve & Adam by Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate
Evening Spiker is the daughter of a mega-rich pharmaceutical researcher with questionable morality. When Eve steps in front of a car, she is whisked away from the hospital almost as soon as she arrives, with her doctors saying she’ll never survive the ambulance ride home. Miraculously, she makes it to Spiker Biopharm, where she quickly gets to know the only other teenager there, Solo Plisskin. Unbeknownst to Evening, her mother has been Solo’s guardian for the past six years, ever since his parents (top Spiker scientists) died in a tragic car accident. The novel alternates between Solo and Eve’s points of view, making it obvious that from the start that Solo knows quite a bit more about what is going on with Eve’s body than she does. Perhaps to keep Eve’s mind away from this fact, her mom gives her a project—test out the company’s new learning software by designing the perfect male, her very own Adam. Eve thinks of Adam as a fun art project, but what she doesn’t know is that her key strokes are piecing actual body parts together. Solo knows something is up, though. For years, he has been discovering ways to hack into Spiker’s files, building a case against the company, and he can guess that the billions of dollars being poured into the project aren’t for learning software. As Eve becomes more and more drawn into the project, Solo has to decide whether or not to tell her he’s been seeking to destroy her mother for years.
Eve & Adamis fast-paced and full of action from the first page, but the authors still present a satisfying amount of character development, and I never felt like they created action for action’s sake. Solo and Eve bond while escaping from Spiker to rescue Eve’s troubled best friend from some harrowing situations and then escape again when Solo’s hacking catches up to him. I never felt irritated by too much or too little detail at these moments in the story, and the sci-fi aspect ofEve & Adamwas similarly satisfying to me. Often, I get irritated with science fiction when there aren’t enough details to explain why things are the way they are (as withThe Originals) or I get bogged down when there are more details than I care about.Eve & Adamstruck a good balance. I never found myself questioning the science of Spiker Biopharm, but I never got confused by it either.
The book also raises some interesting questions about “playing God” and the nature of perfection as Eve creates Adam. Even as a simulation, the program Eve is using shows the average user what it takes to make a human a human, and the questions Eve is faced with when creating him go far past whether his eyes should be blue or brown. Should she make him genius-level smart, so smart that he might not fit in with his peers, or should she make him average, even if it means he’ll have to try harder to succeed? Should she make him more kind or more courageous? Furthermore, can any human ever really be perfect, and what if our idea of perfection doesn’t turn out so perfect in the end? Though the book never gets that deep, choosing instead to focus on Solo’s vendetta against Spiker and his growing romance with Eve, readers will appreciate the ideas that it raises.
Overall,Eve & Adamis a book I would definitely recommend. Rather than being set far in the future in some dark dystopia, the book raises questions about science and control in our own time. ThoughEve & Adamwasn’t deep or thought-provoking enough to stay in my mind for long after I put it down, I still had fun reading it, and I think teens will as well.
Jennifer's Book Review: Arclight by Josin L. McQuein
When Arclight begins, it’s during the middle of an attack. The reader is instantly thrown into a scene of teens being rushed to a safe area, while the adults work to deflect the enemy – the Fade. “This is why I like YA fiction,” I think to myself. No opening chapters of needless exposition, no long drawn out backstory. Instead, we have instant action, and I figure the author will throw us information quickly as we need it along the way.
But I was wrong; we don’t get information along the way. In fact, it’s not until halfway through the novel that we find out who the Fade are, and we begin to get a few hints about where the main character, Marina, comes from. Marina’s own story doesn’t become apparent until even later. In the first half of the book, we blindly run from point A to point B with a little bit of romance thrown in. All we know is that the world has been taken over by the Fade, whatever they are (Ghosts? Zombies? Vampires? Ghouls? All of the above?), and that the Fade dislike light. Because of this, Marina and her compatriots live in Arclight, an area in which darkness never sets in. Lights surround the compound, and everyone knows it’s not safe to go beyond them, into the Grey, where dark and light meet, or into the Dark, where the Fade live.
So how does Marina fit into this story? Marina is a teen girl who is new to Arclight, a sign that the world outside still harbors humans other than those in Arclight. Several of Arclight’s adults were lost in an effort to rescue Marina from the Dark when she was spotted, a circumstance for which many of her fellow teens blame her. And many people believe the ramped up attacks (or at least scouts) from Fade on the compound have something to do with her. Marina doesn’t know herself – she remembers nothing from before waking up in Arclight’s medical center.
And the Fade? They’re stronger than five men, they can blend into their surroundings, and they dislike the light. Until exactly halfway through the book, this is all the reader knows about the Fade. Why they’re attacking, what they look like, etc., are mysteries. However, once the secret is revealed, the story instantly becomes less paranormal/dystopian buildup and more science fiction. (Spoiler: nanites and medical experiments gone wrong.) Yet as some secrets are revealed, more are discovered: The motives and history of Arclight’s leader, Honoria, come under scrutiny, and Marina is tasked with finding a missing Fade girl, Cherish, by a captive Fade. Not all is as it seems, and the book makes strong cases for not judging others for their ancestors’ actions, and for not attacking before all the facts are known.
In the final third of the book, the building romance between Marina and an Arclight teen ends up becoming a love triangle between Marina, the Arclight boy and a Fade boy. It’s surprisingly sweet, although I was rather disappointed with Marina’s ultimate choice.
If the first half of the book weren’t so darn slow, I’d say this was a good read. However, it’s over-long by nearly 100 of its 402 pages, and my initial reaction of “yay, no long, drawn out exposition” was instantly proven wrong by having absolutely NO explanation for so long. Reading about characters stumbling from one crisis to the next gets tiring after a while, and I just kept turning the page in the hopes I could find out what the heck was going on. That being said, this would still be an enjoyable book for teens who are looking for a new book that varies from the current trends of dystopian/vampires/werewolves/etc.
Heather's Book Review: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Sometimes there are books that you like. And sometimes there are books that you love so much, you want to run around the library screaming their praises and wondering why they’ve only been checked out twice because OMG THEY ARE AWESOME and why wouldn’t anyone want to pick them up because OMGTHEYAREJUSTTHATAWESOME,YOUGUYSdssfhsjfjkseyrkjhs !!1!!1@
This was my reaction to Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor.
In Akata Witch, Sunny is a girl who just doesn’t fit in. She’s composed of dramatically conflicting opposites. She was born in bustling New York City, but now lives in quiet Nigeria. Though she looks West African, she differs in one big way—She’s albino. Because of this, she stands out everywhere she goes. She’s also super-sensitive to the sun, so much so that she can’t play soccer during daylight—which is even more frustrating because it’s her favorite sport, and she’s a fantastic athlete. She’s a fantastic student, too, but her teacher seems determined to punish her for it by having her strike the hands of students who don’t score as well on their work. The other students hate her. They call her “akata witch,” “akata” being a word meaning “bush animal” (and being equivalent in insult to a racially-charged term familiar in the US). She hates being different. But one day, she has a vision of the end of the world, and she learns that she may be different for a reason: She is a Leopard Person, and a special one at that.
Leopard People go by many names throughout the world, but all are people with magical abilities. Sunny is a special sort of Leopard Person known as a free agent—a Leopard Person without Leopard relatives, who, thus being a seemingly random creation, possesses magic of unpredictable strength. She must learn to use her magic well and fast, for the area has been riddled with a series of mysterious and gruesome child murders, and she may have a closer connection to them than she realizes…
Much of my love for this book, I actually attribute to Pottermore.com. I read chapters of Akata Witch between messing around on chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on said site because—let’s face it—as exciting as J.K. Rowling’s Big Announcement was a few years ago, Pottermore is all kinds of boring unless you’re, like, ten. Or a Fanatical Harry Potter Nerd. But I am only a Moderately Fanatical Harry Potter Nerd, and in my 20s, so Pottermore is boring. (Now can we please have the Harry Potter MMO that everyone wanted Pottermore to be? Thanks.) Anyway, breezing between chapters of Pottermore and Akata Witch led me to the following series of realizations: “OMG Leopard Knocks is totally Diagon Alley! OMG These textbooks are like mini-monsters, too! OMG The juju knives are totally wands! They’re even divas about who gets to use them! OMG the Leopard People love brainy people like Hermione! OMG The Zuma International Wrestling Finals are totally Leopard Quiddich! OMG The Funky Train is totally the Knight Bus!” (You laugh, but admit it—you’d ride the Funky Train if you had the chance, solely because of its name.)
With these similarities, one would think “Oh, this book is just a ripoff of Harry Potter!” But the truly magical thing about it is this—it’s not. The similarities between Akata Witch and Harry Potter, ironically, evolve into distinct differences because of the way Okorafor treats them.In fact, in addition to borrowing many of the things that I love about Harry Potter, it takes a lot of things that I hate about Harry Potter, and then turns them on their ear and does them better. It even takes the things Harry Potter does well and does them better. “How?” you may ask. And then you may add, “WHAT IS THIS BLASPHEMY?” But read on…
Let’s start with one of its subtler similarities, which is the series’ integral and vivid sense of setting. Harry Potter crossed hundreds of cultural boundaries to gain its popularity, but ultimately it remained a very British series. Take away the scarves; heavy, snowy winters; and dark, castle-like boarding school and you simply do not have the same reading experience. That said, just as Harry Pottercould not take place in a non-British-inspired setting and still render the same story, Akata Witch could not be set anywhere but Nigeria and work. It is the African elements, combined with the sheer imagination surrounding them, that make this novel a great read.
As for the similarities that Akata Witch improves upon, the biggest is this: Both series clearly value the pursuit of knowledge. Harry Potter would have died in book one if Hermione Granger’s brain hadn’t been there to save him, and Sunny’s friend Orlu perfectly expresses the Leopard People’s opinion when he says, “Knowledge is the center of all things.” This is why the Obi Library is a respected place and why its Head Librarian, Sugar Cream (Yes, really), is the most revered and powerful Leopard Person in Nigeria. That’s about where Harry Potter’s appreciation of knowledge ends—“Libraries are awesome and can teach us things that help us when we’re getting into wizard trouble!” Akata Witch values its library, but also takes its love of knowledge further than that. It’s reflected even in the Leopard People’s system of currency. When a Leopard Person learns something new, chittim—that is, the money used by Leopard People—magically materializes in front of them. The more a Leopard Person learns about magic, the more chittim they earn, and the only way to earn chittim is to continue to learn. But it’s not the chittim, or the awesome result of an all-nighter that Leopard People value. It’s the very process of learning itself, and the practical, and sometimes even moral value of the magical discovery that was made. All of the characters are expected to study, too, for reasons further explored below. They can’t be hapless heroes leaning on a Hermione crutch. And the mini-monster textbook mentioned earlier? It doesn’t move and growl because it wants to look cool and wizardly and foreboding. It moves because it wants to be read.
As for an element that I (and many critics) dislike about Harry Potter—One common complaint about the series is that Harry tends to break the rules and benefit from it, or either have the rules bent so they don’t apply to him. First year students aren’t allowed to fly on broomsticks? Pssh! Harry does it and gets a place as the youngest person ever on the quiddich team! Akata Witch doesn’t pull that. When Sunny uses her Leopard abilities in front of a lamb—a huge no-no, just like it is for wizards and magic—she doesn’t get a threatened punishment that is then revoked for Plot Reasons. She gets flogged, and then she loses her highly sought-after chance at becoming Sugar Cream’s mentee. Some of her companions suffer similar punishments for similar foolishness. Of course, while it hurts to see pain befall our heroes, I liked that there were actual consequences for infractions, rather than fortunately-placed plot twists. It adds a realistic sort of tension, in contrast to the tensions present because of the fantasy elements.
There’s also the whole Boy Who Lived-slash-Chosen One thing—a common element in many fantasy novels— where a particular character is, for whatever reason, destined to defeat a particular baddie. I hate Chosen One storylines no matter where they show up because in real life, I’ve only met, like, two people to whom I would confidently entrust the fate of civilization. Even that’s reaching a bit (‘cause, you know, saving all of humanity is a HUGE task for one person). Also, neither of these people were angsty, hormonal, pubescent teens, despite what YA fantasy novels would lead me to expect. (Granted, this is where suspension of disbelief comes in handy when reading YA fantasy.) Expectations of realism aside, there’s also the lack of suspense inherent in the typical Chosen One storyline. We know who’s going to live and defeat the baddie because the story type has already told us. Sure, Harry Potter had the whole and Neville-Longbottom-having-a-similar-backstory-and-therefore-being-a-candidate-to-defeat-Voldemort thing to keep us on our toes-slash-distract us to the end. But come on. Harry Potter’s name is in the title of the series. Of course he’d be the Chosen One. Of course he’d live and beat the bad guy. That’s how Chosen One stories work. (But maybe I’m just spiteful because I was Team Neville.)
Akata Witch doesn’t pull this either. While it’s said that Sunny and her companions’ abilities complement each other in a fortuitous, Chosen One-like way, they are frequently reminded of their absolute mortality: “There will be danger,” says their mentor, Anatov, “Some of you may not live to complete your lessons. It is a risk you take. The world is bigger than you and it will go on, regardless.” And as for that subliminal reader assurance that this rule won’t apply to our protagonists, that surely some mentor or deus ex machina will come to their aid? That hope is shot down by something as innocent as the Leopard People’s favorite sport, about which Sunny asks: “Why didn’t they stop [the match]?” And her mentor replies, “Because life doesn’t work that way. When things get bad, they don’t stop until you stop the badness—or die [italics mine].” Leopard People don’t get rescued, even if they are the protagonists. They take care of themselves, and if they get themselves into bigger messes than they can handle, they’re dead (which makes the act of studying magic a whole lot more appealing). Because the novel doesn’t play the protagonists up as prophesied victors, too, readers fully believe that death is a possibility for Sunny and friends, which makes reading about the danger that they put themselves in all the more suspenseful.
Now, I’ve placed a lot of emphasis on the book’s Harry Potter-like successes, but the novel does possess several great points on its own. For example, though the Leopard People have almost constant access to money (as long as they’re learning), they do not place great value in money, viewing it more as a tool to achieve goals than a goal to be reached in itself. (Granted, this is a theme that has been seen before, but it’s still refreshing to see it approached in a way that isn’t flagrant anti-consumerism). Leopard People also take traits that “lambs”—that is, non-magical people—view as imperfections and view them as strengths. Sunny is albino, Orlu is dyslexic, and other friends Chichi and Sasha were both notorious for being hopeless troublemakers in lamb school, before it was realized that they were actually gifted students bored with the unchallenging world around them (like teens falsely diagnosed with ADHD). All of these traits, regarded as flaws in the lamb world, contribute to their strengths as Leopard People, and it was cool to see characters with “disabilities” benefit from them in a semi-realistic way. (Kudos to Rick Riordan for giving Percy Jackson dyslexia, but to this day I haven’t met a dyslexic teen whose brain can understand the writing of their first language without effort, much less Ancient Greek.)
Of course, the book has flaws as well. The main conflict in the book revolves around the child murders mentioned earlier, and though child murder is awful, and though the crimes become a special concern for Leopard People late in the novel, Okorafor doesn’t spend much story time making us fear the ritual serial murderer Black Hat Otokoto. She’s more interested in showing us Sunny’s entry into the Leopard People world—which, in its defense, is hugely interesting—but I do wish that more time had been spent on the larger threat hanging over the characters’ heads. Ultimately, though, that flaw is overshadowed by the novel’s wonderfully imaginative world-building, and it’s not going to stop Akata Witch from being one of my favorite YA novels of the past several years.
Travis' Book Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
Armedius Academy is the most renowned school in the American Isles, but it is more than a typical school. Armedius is a boarding school for the privileged, but more importantly, it is also a training ground for Rithmatists, an elite warrior-class with the ability to turn lines into magical shields and give life to two-dimensional chalk drawings known as chalklings. Only a select few are chosen to become a Rithmatist, and all of the chosen are meant to be soldiers in the war against the wild chalklings of Nebrask - uncontrollable creatures that tirelessly ravage and mangle any person in their path. Only the Rithmatists have the strength to fight them, and 16-year-old Joel wants nothing more than to become one. The only problem is that Joel wasn’t chosen, and he has no Rithmatic power.
Joel is just a regular student. He is the son of a lowly chalkmaker, only allowed to attend the school as a favor to his deceased father. Joel is incredibly bright and observational, but he is not allowed to formally study Rithmatics. Even if he could, he would never be able to give life to his lines. Like his non-Rithmatist father before him, Joel is obsessed with the idea of Rithmatics. He knows all of the circular defenses, the bind points, the lines of vigor and forbiddance, and he can draw them with depth and precision beyond that of most Rithmatic students his age. Unfortunately, all of that means nothing, especially now that Professor Fitch has been defeated in a Rithmatist duel to Nalizar, a menacing new teacher with radical ideas about Rithmatics. Fitch was kindly towards Joel, often allowing him to sit in on lectures, and Joel held on to the hope that Fitch would help him study to be a Rithmatic scholar. Losing the duel means that Fitch loses his tenure and position to the new-comer, and Nalizar would never allow a non-Rithmatist to study Rithmatics! Opportunity arises from tragedy, however, when Armedius students begin disappearing, leaving strange rithmatic lines and trails of blood in their wake. When Fitch, who now has lots of time on his hands, is given the task of investigating the incidents, Joel earns the opportunity to be his assistant, opening a new world of possibilities.
Brandon Sanderson is one of today’s most revered fantasy writers, butThe Rithmatistis his first attempt at writing for a YA audience – and it is a good one. Initially, though, the concept of the novel is a bit overwhelming and unfamiliar. Rithmatics, the magical elements of the novel, are seeded in geometry, so the writer has to give a number of in-depth explanations. Sanderson is very thorough and does a nice job incorporating the explanations into the storytelling, though. Each chapter of the book also opens with a descriptive diagram to ensure that by the time the story reaches its point of attack, the reader has enough information to dissect what is going on. Unfortunately, this can sometimes feel like a lecture, and casual readers or readers not willing to fully engage themselves in the world may shy away within the first half.
The world ofThe Rithmatistis a Victorian-styled America in which the country is actually a series of islands with familiar names like Georgiabama, New Britannia, and the infamously dark territory of Nebrask. Nearly the entire story takes place on the campus of Armedius, however, and the wonders of the world are only experienced for the first time as they are experienced by the main protagonist, Joel, who rarely leaves the campus. Actually, most of the world outside of Armedius is only alluded to in dialogue. Sanderson also incorporates a number of steampunk elements into the work, including springwork trains and metal horses. The concept fits the Victorian style and dialogue, but the steampunk elements are very minor. Since Sanderson is introducing the readers into a world of alternate history and steampunk, along with magical chalk-wielding warriors, it’s probably best that the work doesn’t spend a lot of time elaborating on those details. Hopefully, the writer will return to these elements in the proposed sequels, butThe Rithmatistactually has very concise storytelling – after spending much of the first half of the book getting the reader accustomed to Rithmatic jargon, that is. Once the plot actually begins to form, the novel quickly turns into a legitimate mystery, complete with puzzles, plot-twists, and a sense of urgency. It becomes quite enthralling, even for an adult reader, but still maintains the feel of a teen adventure.
I like that the main protagonist, Joel, is immersed into a magical world where he is oft considered an outsider because he is able to play off his strengths while using his weaknesses as motivation. The main female protagonist, Melody, is an actual Rithmatist, but unlike Joel, she has little talent at drawing the lines. When Melody is introduced, the writer could have easily turned Joel’s motivation into affection, but Joel and Melody stay true to their characters by complementing each other without taking the romantic path. Combined with the wizened, old professor, Fitch, the three make for an interesting team. Each are maladjusted to each other, but in a way that works to their advantage. Part of the book’s appeal is actually giving voices to these characters! Sanderson does such a great job with the dialogue and character interactions that their voices and inflections easily come to mind. Some of the characterization, however, feels a bit forced because it relies on Joel’s disposition. The writer really wants to push the reader into feeling certain ways about characters in order to push his plot devices. For a mystery, it’s a weakness that strong readers will see through but one that younger readers may actually adhere to.
Sadly, the book is going to find it tough to avoid comparisons toHarry Potter, since it is about a magical school. That’s just how the post-Hogwarts world we live in is going to be. I do consider Melody to be an anti-Hermione, and the handling of Nalizar does seem to juxtapose that of Severus Snape, but the world, its characters, and its devices are still different enough to forgive any similarities.The Rithmatistis its own book and a quality YA entry. Casual readers and readers not willing to fully engage themselves into the complex nature of Sanderson’s world may shy away from the tedious first half of the novel, but those willing to see the journey to its end will be rewarded with a quality fantasy-mystery. Even I had reservations at first, but by the end, I was very engrossed and looking forward to the sequels. I would especially recommend this book for teenage guys that like fantasy adventures, but the book is simple enough for middle-grade readers with sufficient reading comprehension skills.
The school year is almost over, which means that it’s time for summer fun at Spartanburg County Public Libraries! :D
Sign up for Teen Summer Reading, and make the minutes count!
Every hour you read and every teen event you attend gets you one step closer to earning an official TSR T-Shirt and possibly winning awesome weekly prizes like gift cards to Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, GameStop, Target, QT, and more! Every completed game card will be entered to win one of two grand prizes—a PSP Vita or a flatscreen TV! Get started ASAP (once summer starts), because the more you read, the more chances you have to win!
Teen Summer Reading runs from May 31st-July 31st and is for teens ages 12-18 or entering grades 7-12.
When you’re taking a break from reading, you can take some photos for Photobook!
Photobook is a fun annual project in which 50 teens are asked to photograph Spartanburg as they see it. They’re challenged to explore the county and take the best photos they possibly can with the disposable cameras provided. To make it even more fun, there are multiple ways to win prizes!
The Best Overall Photo will win a $100 Barnes & Noble gift card. The Best Spartanburg-specific Photo and Most Unusual Photo will win $75 Barnes & Noble gift cards. We’ll also give a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card to the teen who turns in the Best Decorated Camera!
Wild Boytells the true story of a child found living in the woods of France around 1800. I’ve heard of several such children, sometimes raised by animals, and have always been fascinated by them. He’s first spotted around age 7 and captured a year later. He escapes and is captured (this happens a few times), until finally around age 12 he walks into town on his own. Word spread of the feral boy and scientists of the day were very keen to study him. Early on, he was treated more like a specimen than a human, and several scientists took turns poking, prodding, and observing him. His body was covered in scars, most notably a large one on his neck that made them wonder if he’d been left for dead in the woods after having his throat slashed. Based on his scars and physical condition, they guessed he’d been living on his own since age 5. He went naked and barefoot and didn’t seem to be sensitive to the cold. He loved potatoes, couldn’t speak, hated clothes and shoes, and sometimes walked on all fours. He also had to be closely supervised or he’d escape.
It was common in those days to imprison the mute and feeble-minded with criminals in very poor conditions. After being studied by several scientists who concluded he was most likely an imbecile, he was recommended to be placed in an insane asylum. A young doctor named Jean Marc Gaspard Itard had been watching the boy and believed he could be taught. He spoke up and offered to teach him at a school for the deaf and mute. After working with Victor, as he’d finally been named, from age 13 to 18 on the government’s dime, the experiment was deemed a failure and the lessons stopped. They did make progress in his education, but he never learned to speak. He communicated in his own way using a series of hand gestures. Itard is given credit for keeping Victor out of the madhouse, but his housekeeper, a lady named Madame Guerin, actually cared for him for over 20 years and doesn’t seem to get enough credit for that. Victor died at age 40 at her house, but it’s not recorded how.
Since the events in Wild Boy happened so long ago, not a lot of details are known. I think Victor’s story would make a great Wikipedia entry (and indeed it does, I looked it up after reading the book), but it makes for a lame book. The author spends a lot of time speculating about the boy’s life and in a book of non-fiction, that’s kind of annoying. It’s illustrated and a quick read, but the scientists who study Victor are more fleshed out than he is, and I finished the book feeling like I’d read a summary of a story instead of an actual story.
Jennifer's Book Review: Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer
Vladimir Tod lives with his aunt and is still struggling with the loss of his parents, even though it’s been three years since they died in a bizarre fire. He's in eighth grade, dresses like a vampire for Halloween and has a crush on fellow eighth-grader Meredith. Sounds perfectly normal, right? Except in his case he's also figuring out how to be a normal half-vampire kid, which is quite difficult because as far as he knows, he's the only one.
His last year of junior high seems to be progressing along smoothly, other than the normal flack he receives from the principal and school bullies. But when a strange new substitute appears who is throwing some not-so-subtle and vaguely threatening hints about knowing Vlad's secret, Vlad starts to get a bit nervous—and then a bit scared. To further complicate matters, Vlad discovers the existence of a new society, Elysia, from which his father appears to have been hiding, and Vlad’s vampiric powers seem to be expanding.
Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer is a very quick read and a great opening to a middle-grades vampire series. The timeline progresses quickly - beginning at Halloween and scurrying along toward the end of the school year in the blink of an eye - but the tale doesn't suffer too much for it.
I would definitely recommend this series to all readers who love supernatural reads but are tired (or uninterested) in the current crop of paranormal romance flooding the market.
Start the countdown! It’s almost time for the next teencentric teen reading festival at the Headquarters Library!
Join us on Saturday, June 1st from 7:00-10:00pm (That’s after hours!) as we Skype with authors Michael Grant and Heather Brewer, and meet author Beth Revis in person! We’ll also have a photobooth, a DJ, a caricaturist, games, snacks, prizes—and each teen who attends will receive a free autographed book. Attendance is limited to 200 teens, and the doors will close at 7:15pm, so don’t be late!
Want to know a bit more about the authors? Visit their websites!
Travis' Book Review: Crap Kingdom by D. C. Pierson
Tom Parking is an ordinary teenage guy.He goes to school, hangs out with friends, eats dinner, does his homework, and goes to bed. Rinse and repeat. For Tom, though, his regular, happy life is just a bit too perfect. Kids like Tom are never destined to be the“Chosen One” for some magical kingdom. That role is typically reserved for the kids that spend their home-life locked in a closet. At least that’s what Tom thinks until he meets Gark, a strange man sent to reveal Tom’s true destiny – but not until after Gark kidnaps him, forces him into a clothing donation box in front of K-mart, and nearly sets him on fire with a flame spell. To Gark’s credit, the donation box is actually a portal into a magical kingdom. Unfortunately for Tom, the magical kingdom is a nameless land of garbage and despair, where the locals recently discovered the wonders of clothing, live in Earth’s garbage, and have native magic that consists of making people smell farts. Tom holds hope that there may be more to this kingdom, but after learning that the king’s job is simply to keep his subjects in a constant state of pessimism, since tomorrow can’t possibly be better than today, Tom loses hope. He doesn’t think he wants to be theChosen Oneof the land he calls “Crap Kingdom.” So, the kingdom chooses his best friend, Kyle, instead. When Tom gets jealous of his friend’s positive efforts and gets banned from the kingdom, he realizes he threw away the chance of a lifetime.
Crap Kingdomis filled with laugh out loud moments, mostly because of the way Pierson puts Tom into a number of very relatable (and often awkward) situations. Pierson does a nice job incorporating a realistic adolescent male experience into a fantasy novel. As a guy, and an avid fantasy reader, it’s nice to be able to relate to a male protagonist. Tom isn’t simply tossed into some struggle in a magical kingdom; he fumbles with schoolwork, his crush, jealousy over his best friend, and the moral consequences of his choice. It’s also a genuinely fun spin on the high fantasy clichés. The problem is that the book starts off really slow. The majority of the novel is exposition, and the antagonists are only mentioned in passing until they show up in the last quarter of the novel. Like Tom, the reader doesn’t actually realize what the protagonist’s purpose actually is. Tom’s struggle is with his personal life, not with some dark lord or evil empire – at least not until the end of the book. It’s also a fresh concept to write a fantasy novel about the real-world problems, and Pierson still manages to create a very imaginative universe filled with fantastic elements. It just happens that those elements consist of mustache-wearing princesses, drinking from toilets, and working the nostril probes in the rat-snottery.
As fresh and funny as the novel is, however, it’s still not as funny as I initially hoped. Maybe, like Tom seeing the nameless kingdom for the first time, I went into the book with my hopes a bit too high, excited by the positive reviews from some of my favorite stand-up comedians on the back cover. It’s still funny, though, and the payoff is worth it in the end. The novel shows the Pierson has the capacity to write realistic experiences in a humorous manner, as well as imaginative fantasy and well-organized action sequences. Fortunately, the novel is both short and enjoyable enough to merit reading. I would recommend this book to teenage guys and fantasy fans looking for a fun spoof of the average fantasy read.
Heather's Book Review: The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress
Caution: Contains one spoiler.
Anyone who has ever spoken to me at length about steampunk will know this: While I do love steampunk, I’m a bigger fan of the idea of steampunk than I am of most steampunk books. My main complaint against them is that they tend to treat the pseudo-Victorian aesthetic as a decoration, rather than an integral part of the world of the story. Occasionally, though, I happen upon a steampunk novel that takes that decoration and rocks it.
The Friday Societyby Adrienne Kress rocks hard in all the ways that steampunk should.
In the novel, Cora is assistant to a mad scientist, with all the science brains and cool tech knowledge implied; Nellie is assistant to a magician, armed with sparkly dresses, sneak tactics galore, and a parrot sidekick; and Michiko is a Japanese assistant to an English fight instructor, who knows more about katana combat than her present charlatanic master. When heads start rolling in the London streets—the first right at their feet, in fact—they take it upon themselves to solve the mystery with sassy, street-smart girl power and more than a little technological mayhem.
These are combinations that could not exist outside a steampunk novel and still make sense.
At its heart, The Friday Society reads like Kress said, “OK—I’m going to take everything that is awesome about steampunk, trash the rest, put it in a blender with some glitter and Japanese swordplay and see what happens.” Which is why there is almost no affected fake-Victorian language in this thing, and why the novel foregoes the tedious details of Victorian manners and society to toss an explosion at readers in the first sentence. There are also magical gravity-defying minerals and a super fancy gun that can be worn like armor until an electromagnetic pulse calls its pieces into weapon form.
The characters, too, are sneakily developed, looking like stereotypes on the surface—the tomboy, the girly girl, the samurai—but revealing some clever variations on their types as the novel progresses. Michiko, for example, is the stoic, silent, samurai sort one would expect—but only because she doesn’t know enough English to use the language and so stays quiet to avoid making herself look foolish. Cora and Nellie take it upon themselves to teach her the language, and ultimately, it is these three characters and their interactions that make the novel worth the read. Stylistically, it aspires to read like a steampunk cousin of sassy fantasies like The Princess Bride or Stardust, a feat largely accomplished through the girls’ banter. Though they never actually reach Princess Bride levels of wit—though, really, what other than The Princess Bride itself can do that?— its sense of humor was close enough and uncommon enough in steampunk novels that it kept me reading.
However, even though the strengths outweighed them for me, the book does have some weaknesses worth mentioning. There’s an attempted romantic storyline that falls absolutely flat—but this is a book about girls kicking butt, so that’s ok. The story also involves a secondary murder mystery that I found completely throwaway once it was solved, and once readers find out the eventual bad guy’s motivation, it is frustratingly feminist. BTW THIS IS THE SPOILER PART. WATCH OUT. This seems odd to say about a book that is unabashedly about girl power, but when the antagonist’s reason for murdering everyone (and then some) comes down to “THE MEN DIDN’T THINK MY IDEAS WERE GOOD BECAUSE I WAS A GIRL SO I’LL SHOW THEM >( ” it’s a bit anticlimactic.
Taken as a whole, though, The Friday Society ranks among the best steampunk novels I’ve encountered in the past year. It’s not flawless, but it’s still the most entertaining piece of steampunk quirk that I’ve read since Phil and Kaja Foglio’s classic Girl Genius.
Jennifer's Book Review: Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff
Paper Valentineby Brenna Yovanoff is not just a ghost story.Sure, Hannah’s best friend, Lillian, died six months ago and is now spending her days haunting Hannah. Yes, there are some murdered dead girls who eventually make some creepy, bloody appearances. ButPaper Valentinemanages to rise above its ghostly premise and is so much more. It’s a book about not making snap judgments and eating disorders and speaking up for oneself. It’s a book about family and friendships. And it’s a mystery featuring a creepy serial killer who has a thing for paper hearts.
Lillian slowly wasted away because of her battle with anorexia. Hannah was very aware of the diseased girl’s condition, although both girls seemed incapable of doing anything to stop the gradual decay of Lillian’s body. Yovanoff could have handled this issue many ways. Although not as heart wrenching as Laurie Halse Anderson’sWintergirls,the author does a passable job of explaining how helpless Lillian felt, how her need to be in control over her body overwhelmed her. At the same time, Hannah’s own feelings are remarkably realistic, ranging from anger at the disease itself to Lillian for crying out for attention in such a horrible way, to Lillian’s mother for not paying enough attention and especially to herself for not speaking up.
As for Hannah, she’s a quiet girl, often unwilling to stand up for herself, not wanting to cause waves. Everything is “fine”; everything is “okay.” She works hard to put on a normal façade for her parents and friends, often going along with anything regardless of her own desires. Hannah’s younger sister, Ariel, and Finny Boone, a teenage delinquent who Hannah can’t stop thinking about, seem to be the only ones who truly notice: “If Hannah was on fire, she would still say she’s okay,” Ariel observes. With Ariel and Finny’s support, Hannah slowly crawls out of hershell, taking a stand for whatshewants. (Seriously, though, what kind of name is Finny?)
Woven through Hannah’s emotional journey is the primary conflict: One by one young teenage girls have begun to die, bludgeoned to death and then staged amidst broken and old toys, topped with a homemade valentine heart. Hannah “plays” at investigation, spurred on by the appearance of the ghosts of the dead girls.Hannah isn’t a plucky young Veronica Mars, however, staking out possible suspects and following clues in an effort to show up the police. Rather, she obsessively pores over newspaper clippings, trying to figure outwhythey died. Lillian is a huge instigator in this research, for the ghost is also fascinated by the morbid deaths. When the killer is found, it’s by random happenstance, and even then Hannah doesn’t 100 percent solve the murders until the final reveal. The killer is a surprise, but the true identity doesn’t have any real impact. This is fine,though, because he’s not important.Paper Valentineis perhaps one of the few ghost stories in which the ghosts of the murdered play second fiddle to a spirit who didn’t die under suspicious circumstances, and the mystery is not as important as Hannah and Lillian’s healing and acceptance of Lillian’s death.
Hannah is relatable without being too perfect and avoids the “one flaw” description that so many female protagonists seem to have in young adult lit nowadays. (You know the type – like Bella Swan…she’s smart, nice, pretty, but she’s so gosh darn clumsy! FLAW!) Ariel is the cutest sister ever, and Finny is a sweet love interest who also avoids the “mysterious guy with the perfect looks” cliché.
Paper Valentineisn’t a tearjerker (and easily could have been, considering the subject matter), but it is thought-provoking, well-written and engaging, and I have already checked out Yovanoff’s other novels in the hopes that they are at least as good asPaper Valentine.
Emily's Book Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Park is just a shy Asian kid with earphones on and a lap full of comic books, trying to avoid conversation with his violent classmates, when new-girl Eleanor shows up on his bus. With massive, curly, red hair,a man’s plaid shirt, and dozens of scarves and bracelets, she is a sure target for those around her, and before he knows what he is doing, Park angrily asks her to sit down. It is weeks before the two speak again, and as they ride in silence to and from school, the book shifts between their points of view. Readers soon learn that Eleanor doesn’t dress in ragged clothes for attention—she dresses that way because she doesn’t have a choice. Her stepfather Richie kicked her out a year ago, and she has just been allowed to return home. Richie drinks away the family’s money and keeps Eleanor, her four younger siblings, and her mother in a constant state of trepidation. Eleanor stays about as nervous at school, where she soon gains the nickname “Big Red” and ends up with maxi pads taped to her gym locker. Too afraid to have her head down on the bus, she never brings any reading material of her own but soon starts reading Park’s comics. He begins silently sharing them with her, first giving her reading material, then music, then batteries so she’ll have a way to listen at home. Then, one day he finds himself holding her hand. After weeks of silence, Eleanor and Park are the least likely couple at their school in 1986 Omaha, and between their classmates and Eleanor’s stepfather, they seem doomed from the start.
I loved this book. It’s rare to find a book that is so cute and so sad and so real and just a little bit edgy all at the same time. I’ve also readAttachments, Rainbow Rowell’s debut novel for adults, and I was excited when I found out she had a young-adult book coming out. Rowell writes just as well from Park’s point of view as she does from Eleanor’s, and both of them are well-rounded and well-developed. Eleanor is odd, but she isn’t a caricature, and while Park is a fairly ordinary teen boy from a stable family,we see that his family life is imperfect as well. Fans of well-written realistic fiction will enjoy this book, and I can see it particularly appealing to those who are into the music references inThe Perks of Being a Wallflower. I would recommend it more to older teens, since the language is a bit strong at times, but this book would be great for high-school aged teens and nostalgic adults. Rowell is definitely an author to watch for fans of realistic fiction,and I hope that she continues to write for the young-adult world.
Drama is a graphic novel that chronicles the story of Callie and the Eucalyptus Middle School’s production of Moon Over Mississippi. (I’m not a big fan of live theatre--it makes me too nervous--and just assumed I’d never heard of that play, but according to Google it’s not real!) Callie has loved the stage since her mom took her to see Les Miserables. At first she wanted to perform (Cosette specifically), but after realizing the limitations of her voice, she turned her talents behind the scenes. Now in 7th grade, she is in charge of set design and takes it very seriously, trying to do as much as possible with the time and budget allotted. For Moon Over Mississippi, that involves building a cannon!
The book is cleverly arranged and paced like a theatre production with an overture, different acts, an intermission—the whole bit. I really enjoyed Telgemeier’s illustration style and think she does a fantastic job of making the characters in Drama look and act like real, current teens (from their clothing to the use of texting, chatting, and other technology.) At first I thought the story was lame compared to the art, but she won me over largely by making Callie so relatable. I adore passionate people and Callie’s love of the theatre is infectious. She got me interested in what’s going on backstage since there is arguably more drama happening there!
There are a lot of crushes in Drama—Bonnie and West, Justin and West, Callie and Greg, Callie and Jesse, etc.--and I had to reread a few sections to keep everything straight (twins play a major part and that got confusing). There are several panels where Callie sends a text and anxiously awaits a response that made me want to hug her! Homosexuality is sensitively addressed and presented in a realistic way that I think echoes most teens’ attitude about it. Callie’s in-love-with-this-boy-no-I-mean-this-one is so typical of the teen years and in one of my favorite scenes, she surprises me by turning down a crush that’s finally starting crushing on her.
I was not in the drama department in high school and only on the fringe of it in college, but I’ve had friends who were very involved and I kept thinking how much they’d like reliving it via this book.Drama is intended for a young teen/middle school audience, but I think anyone who’s spent time in the theatre world could relate to it and nearly anyone else could enjoy it! I would love a Callie encore, maybe about her experience as the 8th grade student stage manager of next year’s production?
Travis' Book Review: Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose
Moonbird is the story of a particularly extraordinary rufa red knot, a subspecies of migratory shorebirds. The bird is named B95, a title designated to him simply by the letter and number on the tag that scientists branded him with. Coincidentally, B95 was first discovered by scientists in 1995 on an island in Patagonia, the southernmost tip of South America. B95 had his adult plumage when he was first tagged, suggesting that he was at least 3 years old. At the time, B95 and the rest of his flock were preparing for one of the most impressive feats of physical endurance in the animal kingdom – flying to the other end of the earth. Since then, B95 has become a legend, astounding scientists and bird enthusiasts all over the world for his ability to survive. B95 was last spotted in Delaware Bay in May of 2012, on his way to find summer nesting grounds in the Canadian arctic, looking as spry as a juvenile but at least 20 years old. This means that the bird has flown from one end of the earth and back each year, for at least 20 years! In his lifetime, B95 has flown more than the distance to the moon, truly earning the name, “Moonbird.” Even more amazing is the fact that B95 has survived predators, environmental corruption by humans, plagues of red tide, and powerful storms that can easily knock a bird from the sky.
B95 truly is a great survivor, but unfortunately, his species is in rapid decline. Phillip Hoose does a wonderful job with Moonbird because the book is not only the story of B95, but a means to educate readers about the importance of conservation and protection of the rufa red knot and all wildlife. B95 is the hero of the story, though, and the writer recognizes the importance of focusing the story on the actions of his character. Readers are able to associate a face with the problem – the face of the lone survivor of the initial scientific sample. Throughout the book, Hoose uses a number of literary, journalistic, and scientific writing methods to tell the story of B95 and the great migration of his flock. The story follows a narrative, chronicling the birds from the beginning of their journey, to the end, where it will start all over again. To complete the narrative part of the story, Hoose fills the work with anecdotes, footnotes that elaborate on the story, and profiles the scientists that contribute to the study of the birds and the growing conservation efforts. He incorporates photographs and maps, as well, which really illustrate just how impressive the birds migration patterns. Once the story has been told and the problem presented, Hoose then empowers the reader by telling them about regular people putting forth extraordinary efforts to save the species. He then gives readers tips on how they, too, can become part of the effort, including contact information for a number of the groups or individuals.
The only negative criticism I have of the book is that it often feels too much like a text book. I love the anecdotes, footnotes, and empowerment boxes, but the pages are filled with them. I often found myself jumping away from the narrative to read the boxes or captions, which could sometimes be a little repetitive. Then, I would have to reread a few lines so that I could reenter the narrative. After reading the first few chapters, though, I found it easiest to simply finish the chapter and then return to the notes. Other than that, Moonbird is a well-written, thought-provoking look at the importance of the individual species in the world’s ecology. Moonbird is part narrative, part educational, and part call-to-arms. It serves to motivate individuals, but can easily be the basis of a study or resource for a school report on the importance of conservation. I would highly recommend it to middle readers, teens, or to anyone wanting to understand the importance of conservation and world ecology.
Endangeredfeatures nearly everything I love in a book: animals, underdogs, useful knowledge, survival, a strong female character, and beautiful writing. Sophie is 14 and in Congo during her summer break from school to visit her mother at her bonobo sanctuary. She grew up there until she was 8, but now she lives in Miami with her Dad. Sophie meets Otto, the baby bonobo at the heart of the story, when she “rescues” him from a man selling him on the side of a crowded road. She’s naively convinced she did the right thing because the animal was too skinny, had open sores, and was obviously scared. (Later she learns a hard lesson when the man shows up with two more sickly bonobos and her mother refuses to buy them, knowing it only creates a market for it.) Sophie and Otto bond quickly. Baby bonobos who are separated from their mothers must have a surrogate mother or they almost always die. Sophie is working to wean Otto onto one of the professional sanctuary surrogates when a civil war breaks out. The Congo government is corrupt on its best day and after fighting begins, things quickly devolve. Armed men show up and Sophie and Otto manage to escape into the fenced area with the adult bonobos for safety. (The fence is solar-powered so even without electricity, they can rely on it.) When the men kill the workers and decide to stay there, Sophie must learn to communicate with the adult bonobos, find food and fresh water, keep track of Otto, and try to avoid getting sick or injured. After a few weeks of this, she discovers the fence is no longer armed and knows they’ve got to leave before the men figure it out.
Once they escape the sanctuary, Sophie must figure out where to go. Her mother left just a few days before the men arrived on a mission to release adult bonobos into the wild. She decides to head to the release site and locate her mother. Along the way, Sophie is confronted with all sorts of challenges and evil and is able to overcome it because of her love for Otto. I really enjoyed seeing the human-animal bond portrayed so realistically. Animals amaze me with their capacity to love and communicate with creatures who don’t speak their language. Some people wonder why we should concern ourselves with animal injustices when there is so much human cruelty in the world, but to me they are connected. There’s an interview in the back of the book with the author and he says we don’t have to ignore a lesser suffering because there’s a greater one out there—that’s a sure route to paralysis. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s unrealistic to think we’ll solve the world’s problems by focusing on one at a time. Sophie could have easily left Otto behind numerous times and it would technically have made her life easier, but she would have lost her purpose.
In my opinion, a great book will make me laugh, cry, and think, and Endangered caused all three in spades. I was emotionally exhausted by the end and curious to know more about both Congo and bonobos. I think teens that like realistic fiction, animal stories, and possibly even dystopias (it’s a real-life dystopia!) will enjoy this book.
Emily's Book Review: Maggie Come Lately by Michelle Buckman
Maggie McCarthy isn’t your average sixteen year-old. While other girls her age are at parties or the mall, she’s out looking for a new washing machine or making dinner for her dad and two younger brothers. Old before her time, Maggie has played housewife since her mother committed suicide when she was only four years old. On her sixteenth birthday, she prays that this will be the year that she becomes pretty and popular and finally has a life of her own, and her wish comes true, but it certainly doesn’t happen in the way she expects. First, her father starts dating Andrea, a woman bent on redecorating the house, making Maggie wear cuter clothes, and eventually taking her place as the woman of the home. Maggie is just focused on getting through day-to-day life and adjusting to her new family dynamic when she hears a noise in the woods and goes to investigate. It’s there where she finds her popular classmate Sue wounded, raped, and left for dead. She saves Sue’s life, and soon she is the most talked-about girl at school other than Sue herself. After years of feeling invisible among her peers and unappreciated by her family, Maggie finally has time to be a normal teenager, but she soon finds that popularity isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. She must decide whether to use her notoriety for a chance to hang out with the in-crowd (and possibly compromise her values), or to become an advocate for other girls like Sue, who may have been raped, molested, or abused.
It’s hard for me to nail down my opinion of Maggie Come Lately. The book is undeniably well-written and its characters are undeniably well-developed, but it moved somewhat slowly for me. The book picks up its pace once Maggie finds Sue in the woods, so perhaps I would have been more engaged if this tragedy had taken place sooner. Buckman does spend the first part of the book introducing a variety of sketchy men in Maggie’s neighborhood who later become suspects in the rape, and their actions create a good amount of suspense later on. Could it be the bearded stranger who recently started hanging out in the area? Is it Mr. Smith, the man with colorful button-down shirts and a cat who is constantly running way? Or is it Mr. Dweller, a trusted youth group volunteer who is loved and respected by everyone in the community other than Maggie? I really respected that a Christian book didn’t back down from the notion that a church leader can be involved in rape or sexual abuse, and I loved that Maggie’s distrust of him didn’t keep her from having a strong faith in God. Though I have limited experience with Melody Carlson’s books (Carlson is another prominent Christian writer for teen girls), I thought Buckman did a better job presenting an issue such as rape than Carlson might. In Maggie Come Lately, characters come to spiritual realizations gradually, and Maggie is a far better developed character than the characters in some of Carlson’s books. I also simply appreciated that Maggie seemed like an ordinary, unassuming teen girl. While other young-adult heroines are bold and quick-witted, Maggie is a character I think quieter teen girls may be able to relate to more easily. While it’s fun to read about smart teens with sharp senses of humor traveling to Amsterdam or plotting school pranks, it’s always hard for me to imagine myself in their place at the age of sixteen. Maggie, however, is someone I could see myself being like as a teen—though I still don’t know if I’m as responsible as she is or if I’d be brave enough to go into the woods if I heard someone moaning in pain.
Overall, this is definitely a book I would recommend. Christian readers will appreciate a well-written book that tackles a topic like rape from a godly perspective, but I don’t think the book’s references to God or Maggie’s faith are prevalent enough or preachy enough to turn other readers off.
Jennifer's Book Review: Rampant by Diana Peterfreund
Most people have reasonable fears – like clowns – but because of the horror stories Astrid’s mother, Lilith, told her as a child, Astrid has always had a fear of unicorns. Lilith claims the terrifying stories about man-eating unicorns are true, and their family is descended from a long line of unicorn hunters who went into retirement after the beasts went extinct more than a hundred years ago. So when a unicorn attacks Astrid’s boyfriend, Brandt, Astrid is surprised to learn her mother isn’t entirely crazy about the whole unicorn hunter thing. Lilith packs off a reluctant Astrid and sends her to Italy to hone her warrior-girl skills. The only people who can be unicorn hunters are virgin girl descendants of Alexander the Great. Why Alexander the Great? Because he tamed one of the biggest unicorns ever, of course. Why virgin girls? Because when they are no longer pure, they lose their special hunter abilities around unicorns. Duh. (Oh, and the smallest of unicorns, zhis, attack anyone who isn’t a virgin Alexander spawn on sight. But they’re like goat-sized puppies for the virgins. Because that totally makes sense.)
I loved and hated this book. Why the love? Killer unicorns! Five kinds of man-eating, violent, intelligent unicorns. Thismade Rampantdifferent. Show me another book about killer unicorns. Can’t think of one? Neither can I. Forget sparkly vampires, angsty teens in dystopias and angels falling in love with humans – the protagonist in this book was destined to hunt unicorns who like their meat raw, bloody and a bit human. (They are known to kill farm animals, pets and other wildlife when humans aren’t readily available, though.) The book was a quick, easy read, and I was so invested that I finished it in one sitting. While I was reading it, I enjoyed every last bit. It’s filled with action, a bit of romance (destined to be chaste, of course), and an original premise. The flow is steady and never drags.
And the hate? A few things were a bit odd and never fully explained. A pharmaceutical company is financing the new hunter school (in a convent, because virgins). The company would like to find the recipe to a magical, mythical cure-all called Remedy so it could make gazillions. But then we discover the company is somehow hampering the girls, too, which makes little sense. Why pay for them to train, but then get in their way (including paying guys to deflower them, which results in an off-page date-rape for Astrid’s cousin)? The pharmaceutical company is a convenient villain, but its reasoning behind its actions is flimsy and never fully fleshed out.
The majority of characters in Rampantare one-dimensional, and none of them really develop any personality of their own. (Astrid, her cousin, Philippa, and another hunter, Cory, are the main exceptions.) The best character in the book is the zhi Bonegrinder, a tame unicorn that the girls basically inherited after Cory killed the zhi’s family. (In all fairness, the other unicorns in the family killed Cory’s mom.) But even Bonegrinder’s presence is a bit weird – why would anyone choose to keep it around knowing it is part of the reason Cory’s mother died?
My least favorite character? Lilith. Astrid’s mother is a crazy woman. Even when her unicorn theories are proven right because of the return of the carnivorous beasts, she’s fanatical and a bit witchy with a B. She’s convinced her daughter is destined to become a great hunter, and she’s willing to let a few other teens and tweens die because, hey, people die in this business. She even blames her own niece for getting raped (yay blame the victim!), which is just disgusting. And our protagonist never stands up to her mother, even when she knows that Lilith is putting them all in danger.
Cory’s cousin Philippa, a.k.a Phil, is a bit odd herself. She flew to join the hunters on her own, partly with the idea that she could convince them to treat unicorns like endangered animals (protection and relocation versus killing them). Joining a group of girls who are training to kill the unicorns doesn’t seem like the best way to do this, but whatever. Phil overlooks the fact that unicorns not only eat people, but actively seek out hunters and kill anyone who happens to be with them. Sometimes unicorns don’t kill people to eat them, but instead murder them just for fun. Nature’s own serial killers. But Phil drops the preservation idea like a hot potato about halfway through the book, and it’s never revisited. It would have been better if it had never even existed, honestly.
It may sound like the negatives outweigh the positives in Rampant, but they really don’t unless you overthink it (like I obviously did). It’s a fun, easy-breezy read, and it’s a great book to recommend to fans of fantasy, urban fantasy and paranormal romances – especially if they’re tired of reading the same story about fairies, vampires, angels and werewolves over and over. Even with all of its faults, I look forward to reading the sequel Ascendant.
Travis' Book Review: Struck by Lightning by Chris Colfer
Chris Colfer, famous for his role on the television show, Glee, is proving himself to be a triple-threat talent. Not only did he write and star in the movie adaptation ofStruck By Lightning, he wrote the book. Normally, the whole movie to book scenario is a big literary turnoff – I mean it is one thing to turn a novel into a mediocre movie, but another to turn a movie into mediocre book. Since Colfer wrote the film and the novel, however, I decided to give this book a shot. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.
Struck By Lightning is the story of Carson Phillips, a self-righteous teen that knows exactly how he wants his life after high school to end up – far away from the small town of Clover, a “place where the pockets are small and the minds even smaller.” To be more specific, Carson will be attending Northwestern University before getting published in the New York Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe and eventually becoming the editor of The New Yorker. His goals are lofty, yes, but unlike everyone else in his small town, he is focused on his ambition and will do anything to reach his goals – which starts with being accepted into Northwestern. Getting accepted into his dream school, however, is going to be a bit more difficult than he thought. Being the editor of a school paper and head of the writing club (of which he is the only real member) is not enough to ensure his acceptance. If Carson is to be accepted, he needs to find a way to prove that he is a leader and capable of inspiring others. He decides to create a literary journal of works written by the popular kids, but the problem is that they all hate him (because he is a bit of a jerk). When Carson starts uncovering the popular kids’ secrets, though, he decides to use his knowledge to blackmail them into writing for him.
Struck By Lightning isn’t trying to tread any new grounds when it comes to portraying the high school dynamic. Each of the popular kids that Carson targets is a representation of one of the common social classes of high school. The targets consist of Clair, the head cheerleader; Remy, the yearbook editor; Justin, the captain of the football team; Scott, the Drama Club president; and Nicholas, the son of the richest family in town. There is also the goth girl, the stoner boy, and the foreign exchange student. Colfer doesn’t really give any of them an individualized characterization, but rather chains them down to their common stereotypes. The most unfortunate instance of this unflattering characterization is with Malerie, a sweet but very misguided girl that really tries to work with Carson. Unfortunately, Colfer portrays her as if she is an idiot because she is constantly plagiarizing books to pass off as her own, often starting her works with lines like, “Call me Ishmael,” or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” By the end of the book, Malerie had actually written TheHunger Games and an Adele album. The concept is funny, yes, but they are also evidence of lost potential. Colfer wrote the script for the film before he wrote the book, and in film, some characters can be a little more vague and undeveloped. Literature is less forgiving.
Despite the character flaws, the novel is still both funny, refreshing, and an overall joy to read. Most of Colfer’s witty commentary on the high school dynamic is spot on, and there are plenty of pop-cultural references just ambiguous enough for the reader to feel smart for understanding. I mean, who makes a Dante’s Peak reference in 2012? Colfer even has the audacity to write a reference to his Glee character, which seems a bit egotistical, but fits right in with his, and Carson’s, tone. Ultimately, the writing does branch beyond social commentary and sarcasm. Carson is forced to face the moral consequences of his actions, often struggling with the idea of hurting others and using others to achieve his own goals. In the end, it turns out that each character is searching for his or her own form of acceptance – be it accepted by parents, peers, or society. Carson’s strive for acceptance is just a little more tangible. The writer is also not without his moments of simple brilliance, expressing ideas like, “the higher your cloud, the farther your rain falls,” and, “I never planned to fail, so I failed to plan.” The writer is also not without use of foul language. Parents and younger teens may shy away from the “f-bomb,” but Colfer certainly does not. That said, I would highly recommend this book to fans of Chris Colfer’s character on Glee, as well as older teens and adults looking for a fast, fun, and thoughtful read.
Emily's Book Review: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo
Can a fifteen year old girl and a twenty-one year old boy ever find the equal ground necessary to form a real relationship?Is such a relationship inherently creepy or can it make sense, given certain circumstances?These are the questions Love and Other Perishable Items examines in a smart, engaging story that combines all the things I love in a book.This book is a realistic love story that goes beyond the touchy-feely and gets into the meat of characters’ lives and hearts and what draws them together.It’s funny, it’s well written, and it draws a clear and detailed backdrop for the characters’ romance to play out.I read a review of this book several weeks ago and mostly forgot about it, so I’m glad I didn’t miss it when it appeared on our shelves.
Amelia is a barely fifteen-year old Australian girl who begins working at Coles Supermarket for extra spending money, and Chris is the poor but charismatic college student she quickly falls for there.He charms all his female co-workers at Coles, but readers get a hint that he may have more than friendly feelings for Amelia when he abruptly buys her a bouquet of marked-down flowers at close on Christmas Eve.When the book transitions into Chris’s own journal, we find that he doesn’t understand why he did this any more than Amelia does, but his thoughts about her seem to grow by the page as she appears more and more in his writing.He is amused by her angry diatribes about everything from her parents’ smoking habit to Great Expectations, and he is impressed by the way she has the motives of everyone else who works at the supermarket figured out perfectly.Yet, when he lists “The Field” in his quest for a perfect woman, he never includes Amelia because of her young age.
A lot of things about this book appealed to me.First of all, I loved that it is set in Australia.Realistic fiction set in another country is always an interesting change, even if I did get a little confused at first with Christmas taking place in the summer.As always, I loved the international slang.I also thought it was genius that Buzo decided to make a supermarket the main setting of this novel.A part-time retail job is one of the few places where Amelia and Chris can be equals.It doesn’t matter so much that he is in college and she is in high school when they have the same position at Coles, and it is one of the few places where a high school student and a college student could have become friends in the first place.I couldn’t decide at first if I liked the inclusion of Chris’s journals in the book—mostly because they turn him from a twenty-one year old dreamboy into a mildly alcoholic slob—but ultimately, the story wouldn’t have been the same without them.In them, we see Amelia turn Chris into a better man, and it’s especially cool when their conversations about family life, feminism, and the books Amelia reads at school are all woven together in letters they write to one another.
I would recommend this book to fans of realistic fiction and those who like romance that goes beyond the surface level.Fans of Megan McCafferty and Sarah Dessen should be intrigued and will hope that Buzo continues to publish books in the same vein as this one.
Heather's Book Review: Blade Silver by Melody Carlson
Her father is verbally abusive. Her mother is an empty husk of a person, broken beneath her father’s words. Now, refusing to suffer under her father any longer, her brother has run away from home, infuriating her father even further and causing him to take out his anger on her. Ruth Wallace’s situation is a rough one. She has no idea how to cope with it, and so she tries to control her pain in the only way she knows how. She cuts herself.
Blade Silverby Melody Carlson tells the story of Ruth’s struggle with cutting—her many reasons for doing it, her struggle to hide it from even her closest friends, and eventually, the steps she takes to help herself put her razors away for good.
Self-mutilation is a sensitive topic for several reasons. One is that people who don’t “get” self-mutilation tend to condescend to it like it’s a superficial problem, and thus an easy one to fix (After all, how hard could it be to simply not cut oneself?). Another is that teens who participate in it feel utterly belittled by this sentiment, in addition to feeling belittled by the personal embarrassment that they feel toward their activities, in further addition to whatever deeper troubles they’re experiencing that are causing them to self-mutilate in the first place. It’s such a multilayered problem that there’s absolutely no comfortable way to bring it up. Fortunately, Blade Silver is a step in the right direction, a (mostly) good book to hand to (most) anyone who either is or knows a cutter, and wants to overcome that.
Blade Silver is a quick, easy read (in terms of writing style), but its real strength is found in Carlson’s handling of its subject matter. Carlson treats Ruth and her problems with respect. This book isn’t an afterschool special where Ruth cuts herself once and then dies to teach readers that cutting is bad. It’s a believable look at a teenage girl whose life reflects that of many teens in similar situations. It’s by no means a comfortable read. Ruth’s father made me wince every time he spoke, and the descriptions of Ruth’s cutting process were visceral enough to make me cringe. Some objection has been raised about the latter element, reasonably, as the novel could be easily taken as a how-to manual for cutting by the reader who wishes to interpret it that way. The relevant scenes are as specific as to detail the clever methods Ruth uses to hide her razors, what depth of cut she finds to produce the best result, etc., and this is important to keep in mind when recommending the book to a teen who might be inclined to cut. However, overshadowing this darker element is the book’s realistic representation of the tensions experienced by a self-mutilating teen. It’s genuine enough that a sympathetic reader could—even without finishing the book—understand the anxieties that would make a teen want to voluntarily harm herself. The book also closes with a Reader’s Guide that features questions useful for encouraging critical thinking about the many facets of Ruth’s conflict, which is ultimately the purpose of this book—to let cutters know that there is hope to be found outside cutting, and to show those around cutters what goes through a cutter’s mind.
Still, for all its positive points, the book does have some problems. Ruth is the only well-developed character in this novel, but that’s excusable, being that it’s a story about her personal struggle in a book intended to help teens fight their way through their own similar struggle. A bit less excusable is the ending, in which Ruth finds God and then goes home to a situation that is distinctly happier than her previous one. Granted, this seems like an absurd thing to say about a Christian book written by one of the most prolific YA Christian authors out there, but in the context of the story itself, this ending feels entirely out of place. A few references are made to God early in the novel, mostly in a “My friend is Christian, but I don’t know much about it” way on Ruth’s part, and 98% of the book is spent focusing on Ruth’s personal struggle, not her religious beliefs (or lack of them). The book doesn’t even read like a conspicuously Christian book until its last 2%, when God swoops in like a literal deus ex machina and solves many of Ruth’s problems. Christian readers will not have a problem with this, but so much of the book’s hopeful ending is rooted in Ruth’s abrupt discovery of God that non-Christian readers are likely to feel defeated by it (especially the non-Christian readers who were looking for an actual solution to a problem they might be going through themselves). The ending is not entirely rainbows and unicorns, as Ruth does acknowledge that she still has some work to do if she’s to stop cutting entirely, but I would have liked it to offer a more grounded solution, in addition to Ruth’s spiritual awakening.
Ultimately, though, Blade Silver provides a solid look into the mind of a teen self-mutilator, and despite its mostly fairy tale ending, offers valuable food for thought, no matter what relation the reader has to its subject matter.
Jennifer's Book Review: Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught
Jamie Carcaterra is fat. Not chunky, curvy, obese or fluffy. She’s fat. At least, that’s what she tells you in her weekly Fat Girl column, published in The Wire, her school newspaper. The feature, designed (she hopes) to help her win a scholarship contest, begins with some myth debunking:
“Myth Number One: Speak gently to poor Fat Girl. She can’t help her terrible disability.
“Myth Number Two: Poor Fat Girl needs to be educated about her problem.
“Myth Number Three: Poor Fat Girl laughs to hide her tears.
“Myth Number Four: Poor lonely Fat Girl can’t get a date.
“Myth Number Five: All poor Fat Girl wants to do is lose weight.”
But Fat Girl’s column spins Jamie’s life in directions she couldn’t expect, especially when she begins chronicling the gastric bypass surgery of her boyfriend, Burke. In addition to gaining nationwide recognition and being accused of “disregarding a national public health crisis,” Jamie must navigate the waters of high school, friendships and relationships.
Despite her claims that life doesn’t revolve around her size, Jamie, who wears a size 5X, is very aware about how it impacts every aspect of her existence, from concern about whether she’s sweaty-stinky to stress over the thought that one day her boyfriend will be smaller than she is. Not being able to shop in the same stores with friends, having people judge you for eating lunch, and other slights and mistreatments are obstacles that Jamie has to handle. She points out that fat discrimination is the last socially acceptable form of discrimination because it’s always assumed that anyone who is overweight is willfully unhealthy and unwilling to do anything to fix it.
“I’m not eating. I haven’t eaten in front of people since fifth grade, when I got tired of the staring, even from the teachers. When I was younger, I used to throw fits and scream, or cry and try to explain that even though I was fat, I still had to eat a meal here and there. Then, slowly, I got to where I just didn’t feel hungry if other people were around to watch.” (p.14)
Author Susan Vaught manages to realistically portray concerns and issues that many overweight people deal with every day. She throws in some amazing (horrifying) facts about gastric bypass surgery – how it’s performed, the high mortality rate (one in 200 die on the table or right after, one in twenty after the first year), and details about dumping and frothing (some very gross things that patients often go through after surgery). [Side note regarding the mortality rates: I looked it up and the numbers vary depending upon what source you’re looking at. No matter where you’re looking, however, the number of deaths caused by complications is high.]
Many readers who have struggled with their weight and/or weight-loss will be able to identify with Fat Girl, although her in-your-face attitude might turn some off initially. Jamie is unapologetic, funny and, on the surface, happy in her skin. Once you dig a little deeper – into the book and into Jamie’s mind – Jamie’s outlook makes more sense, as she struggles to shrug off hurtful, unthinking words from friends, family and even her doctors. Big Fat Manifestois not just about Jamie’s weight and Burke’s surgery. It’s about the bonds of friendship and the struggle to speak up for what’s right, with a bit of unexpected romance sprinkled in. Big Fat Manifestomight not be a great novel, but it’s a good novel, and it can be an eye opener to the discrimination that continues to be acceptable in today’s world toward the overweight.
[Fun note: Big Fat Manifestowas a 2010 South Carolina Young Adult Book Award nominee.]
Travis' Book Review: Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison
After reading Batman and Robin, it’s easy to see why DC Comics decided to relaunch its entire 52 publication roster. The universe that DC comics created over the past decade had become a convoluted mess of storytelling, with each writer trying to write his or her own take on different characters, while trying to connect their stories to stories that other writers had written. See? A mess! Who, except for the most die-hard comic book fans, can keep up with all of this? That said, I am a huge fan of Morrison’s All-Star Superman and his other major works like Batman: R.I.P and Final Crisis. Unlike Morrison’s take on Superman, a stand-alone work that exhibited Morrison’s creative writing talents and understanding of his subject, Batman and Robinties in previous DC Universe events – specifically, the events of Morrison’s previous work with Batman in Final Crisis, which ended with the death of Bruce Wayne.
Well, not really, as it turns out. Just to show how complicated the DC universe had become, another Batman series showed that he was actually just sent through time, where he fought cavemen, pirates, and solved crimes during the time of the Salem witch trials. Yes, all of that happened. All the while, in another series, the relationship of Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul is explored, revealing that the two have a son name Damian, who is trained in the same assassin arts as Batman. In yet another series, the classic character Dick Grayson, formerly Robin and Nightwing, kills an evil imposter Batman and decides to take on the role of the dark knight, himself.Now, finally, with each of those story arcs taken into account, comes Morrison’s Batman and Robin.
In this 3 volume collaboration, Dick Grayson is working under the mask as the new Batman and Bruce Wayne’s son, Damian, is working as Robin. The two caped crusaders must stop a murderous new villain known Professor Pyg, face one of Morrison’s villains from a previous series, Dr. Hurt, and learn to work together to save Gotham.All the while, the two must investigate a mysterious new vigilante that is willing to kill criminals. To make matters worse, Grayson and Damian start uncovering clues that suggest Bruce Wayne may actually still be alive. Unlike Bruce Wayne, however, Grayson isn’t the “world’s greatest detective,” and unlike Grayson, the new Boy Wonder is showing signs that he, too, is willing to kill – especially when the infamous villain, the Joker,reveals his own twisted plans.
Unlike his work with “man of steel” in All-Star Superman, Morrison isn’t trying to recapture the glory of the silver age of comics with the new version of Batman and Robin. He is writing a continuation of current storylines. Since much of the foundation for this work is his own contributions to the DC universe, Morrison has a firm grasp of the world he is working with, and still adds the kind of storytelling elements that make him one of the best modern comic writers.The problem is that even though the writer has a grasp on the current characters, the readers might not. In the classic conception of the dynamic duo, Robin is perceived as the fun loving, fast-talking, “Holy particle board, Batman” sidekick. It’s that Robin who now wears the mask of Morrison’s Batman. The new Robin, however, is a trained killer with a superiority complex and the serious demeanor of his father. The role-reversal allows Morrison the freedom to write complex characterizations and conflict between the two main subjects. The conflicting personalities between leader and sidekick often lead to tension between the heroes, and bad decisions are made. Fortunately for the reader, bad decisions create plot points, climaxes, and require resolutions – and these two heroes make a lot of bad decisions. At one point, for example, Damian decides to tackle an entire gang of villains by himself, but ends up with a broken spine. At another point, Grayson tries to reanimate Bruce Wayne’s dead body, but it turns out to be an evil clone that wants to kill him, instead.
The two do learn to work together, eventually, but the events that lead up to that point are so complex and reliant on source material, that I can’t recommend it to a casual reader. The murderous clone was from Final Crisis, one villain is from R.I.P, and another villain is from Death in the Family, written nearly 25 years ago. Morrison is a serious writer, and his comic storylines read under the assumption that the readers are familiar with these past works, among many others. The beauty of All-Star Superman is that it reimagines and recaptures the magnificence of a classic character, while making him accessible to everyone. The most disappointing thing about Batman and Robin is that it does not. Yes, the series is still a new take on an old franchise, but without prior knowledge of the complex universe of DC comics and the events leading up to the creation of the series, it is easy to get lost. Overall, I personally enjoyed the series and appreciate what Morrison did with his characters, but the series is a small piece in a much larger puzzle. Serious comic book fans will enjoy it, but casual readers will be left confused.
Susan's Book Review: The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima
The Crimson Crown is the fourth and final book in the Seven Realms series that stars young Queen Raisa and streetlord turned wizard/bodyguard/hero, Han Alister. Chima does a wonderful job putting her characters in difficult situations and having them rise to the occasion. It’s been fun watching Raisa grow into a just and strong Queen who can make hard choices and stand up for what’s right, no matter the price (which is sometimes very high—like her-sister’s-life high). I love a good underdog story and they don’t get much better than Han’s rags to riches tale. It was gratifying to see all of his hard work and suffering pay off. For probably 75% of the book, their stories happen independently of each other. I enjoy that well enough, but what I really love is the 25% where they get to interact. Finally, a couple in teen literature where I’m shown why they love each other, instead of just being told they do!
CAUTION: SPOILER ALERT!
A lot happens in this last book—Raisa is working hard as Queen, Han is still her bodyguard and sleeping in the next room (much to nearly everyone’s confused chagrin), Han’s not only on the Wizard Council, he’s gotten himself elected High Wizard, the gifted are being killed for their amulets in Ragmarket, Lord Bayer is confronted by his illegitimate half-breed son, and Han trusts Crow enough to let him possess his body to gain access to the Armory of the Gifted Kings. Whew! All of the stories come together at the end as Raisa is betrayed and the Queendom comes under attack. The wizards and clans haven’t coexisted peacefully for ages and now the best chance they have at survival is to work together. Nearly all of the characters we’ve met during the course of the series are involved and there’s something for everyone--politics, strategy, allegiances, love, old laws, magic, lies—there’s even a dog!
Overall, Chima was kind to her characters and I’m surprised so many of them lived. I was waiting for one of my favorites to fall, but I only cried once and it was over a minor character who met a sad end. I was afraid Raisa would have to marry for the good of the kingdom and not for love, but she and Han end up together, so THANK YOU, Ms. Chima. I’m also super pleased that Micah Bayar turned out to be a good guy. I thought he was only playing like he was to get Raisa, but it seems the bigger twist is that he was truly in love with her all along and just a pawn in his father’s sinister plans. I missed the chemistry between Raisa and Amon, but understand that things have changed and enjoy how they’ve transformed their romantic love into a loyal/friendship type of love.
I hope Chima finds a way back to this cast of characters someday. She built a very rich and detailed world and I’m sure there are stories yet to tell. For instance, I would love to read this same story from Micah’s point of view!
If you haven’t yet read The Giver by Lois Lowry, stop reading this review right now, and go read that book instead.Published in 1993, The Giverhas been a staple in English classrooms and on teens’ bookshelves ever since, and some adults still regard it as a masterpiece of dystopian literature.It tells the story of Jonas, a boy in a society where families are chosen for children after they are born, careers are chosen for young adults at age twelve, and where war and pain have been eliminated through the introduction of “sameness.”Rather than receiving an ordinary career assignment, Jonas is selected to be the “Receiver of Memory,” and throughout the course of the book, readers watch as he discovers what life used to be for his community.There was pain, strife, and even hunger, but there were also celebrations, true families, and love—things Jonas has never experienced before.
Near the end of The Giver, Jonas finds out that a baby his family has been helping to nurture is about to be “released.” Baby Gabriel has failed to thrive; therefore, the Elders have decided, he cannot be placed with parents and cannot continue to exist.Horrified, Jonas decides to leave the Community forever and take Gabriel with him, and the novel ends ambiguously, with readers not knowing whether Jonas and Gabriel die or find another community in which to live.
For years, young readers have asked Lois Lowry, “What happens to Jonas?” and until now, she has not fully answered the question.In the past, Lowry has published Gathering Blueand Messenger, books which allude to the world of The Giver and its characters but aren’t true sequels.Lowry had never intended to answer all the questions her fans had asked, but with Son, that is exactly what she does, finally writing a book that will satisfy two generations worth of curiosity.
Son follows the story of Claire, the fourteen-year old girl who gives birth to Gabriel.At the beginning of the story, Nurturers take him from her and assign her to a new position in the Community, assuming she will soon forget her young son.But she doesn’t.At first, she finds ways to go to the Nurturing Center during all her spare moments to visit him, and, after she finds out that he has been taken from the community, she gets on a ship and leaves the Community, determined to spend her life find a way to reunite with her son.
The village Claire soon finds herself in is a community vastly different from her own.There she meets an old woman who takes her in as her own and teaches her about all the parts of life that were missing in her old community.There, she has a pet, attends wedding celebrations, helps heal the sick, and learns to recognize colors for the first time.She even meets a young man who cares about her and wants to help her learn.Still, Claire cannot forget Gabriel, and so she decides that she must leave the sense of family and safety she has found in this little village in order to finally find her son.
In many ways, Son mirrors and finalizes The Giver perfectly, as it builds on many themes from the earlier book.Like The Giver, Son emphasizes originality and free choice, and like Jonas, the fact that Claire’s experience is different from the rest of the Community’s causes her to realize that the ideal, painless life she thought she was living is far from perfect.In many ways, Claire’s story is even more gut-wrenching than Jonas’, because the Community has taken her child from her, a child they never expected her to meet or care for or love.I also thought the story was interesting because readers see the Community through the eyes of an older character.As a fourteen year-old, Claire is considered an adult, and no longer lives in her parents’ home.In fact, since they have raised her, they are no longer considered her parents—a concept I found frightening, since Claire is literally thought to belong to no one for the remainder of her adolescence in the Community.
As a sequel, Son was interesting, because it tells the story of The Giver from a different perspective.Though it still answers the question “What happened to Jonas?”, the book is told from Claire’s point of view and actually begins before The Giver starts, while Claire is in the delivery room.I found this a fascinating way for Lowry to tell the next piece of the story.Not only do we see what happens next when Claire goes on the journey to find her son; we also get to experience the world of TheGiver from the perspective of an ordinary Community member.While Jonas is undeniably special (a “Receiver of Memory” is only chosen once in several generations), Claire’s chosen assignment is birthmother—a profession that is considered one of the least noble in the whole Community.Before her son is taken, she is only vaguely aware of Jonas’s existence, and in the meantime, readers watch as she lives her life as a normal Community member.We watch as she lives in her dormitory, works at her ordinary assignment at the fish hatcheries, eats meals with her co-workers, and forms shallow, surface-level friendships with them.As a reader, I truly got a sense of how boring and superficial life is for an ordinary character in the world of these stories—and how far members of the Community have been brainwashed to not want more.
Like Gathering Blue, Son is also interesting because it explores an alternate location that is outside the Community but is still a part of the same obviously futuristic world.The village Claire finds herself in when she leaves the Community is probably the most pleasant setting that is introduced in books related to The Giver.Located over a cliff by the sea, this village is far removed from technology or modern medicine, yet features many things that have been lost or done away with in the Community.Claire sees animals there for the first time in her life, and to the surprise of the woman who takes her in, she has to be taught the concept of yellow and red and blue, as she has never seen colors before.The village is quaint—with town-wide wedding celebrations and little girls playing tea-party by the sea.Of course, Claire eventually leaves this village and goes on to find her son, but it is interesting to consider how all these worlds inside the larger world of the books might fit together.
In short, I would recommend Son (along with Gathering Blue, Messenger, and especially The Giver) to everyone.Adults and children alike can enjoy these stories and appreciate the skill with which Lowry has written them.Furthermore, dystopian stories such as this one can go a long way toward making us appreciate our own messed-up, imperfect world, full of pain and strife and family and love.
Jennifer's Book Review: Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier
Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier is a fairy story, but it’s not the typical story one thinks of when imagining YA fairy stories. There are no wings, no ethereal beauties, no references to Oberon or Mab or Puck. For those who haven’t heard of Marillier before, she’s written many fantasy novels, many of which are based on old Celtic stories and European legends. (I fell in love with her writing when I first read Daughter of the Forest, which is loosely based on the Six Swans fairy tale with a heavy Celtic twist.)
As in her other novels, Marillier creates a magical world. The focus of the book is narrow: We follow the journey of 15-year-old Neryn as she journeys to a place only rumored to exist – Shadowfell. It’s supposedly a rebel stronghold, designed to oppose the king who strikes fear in the hearts of his people. Neryn, penniless and orphaned, knows Shadowfell is the only place she might find safety because she is canny – a term used to describe someone with special abilities. The spectrum of canniness varies wildly; a canny person might be able to sing extraordinarily well, to cook a bit better than others, or even to mess with minds. Along the way, Neryn makes friends in unexpected places, including a strange man known as Flint and some of the Good Folk (fey). Again, the Celtic influence shows in Marillier’s writing with mention of a Red Cap, a Urisk, a Brollachan and more.
Marillier is very descriptive, and it would be fair to say that the story moves slowly. We follow Neryn’s journey day-by-day, except for a period of time in which she’s indisposed. While I would find this tedious in many other novels, Marillier manages to enchant me with her lyrical language and detailed character building. No one Neryn meets is two-dimensional, from a witless minor character to the mysterious Flint. Filled with romance, magic and secrets, the world of Alban is rich and beautiful, and I eagerly wait for the next novel in the series.
(Side note: I kept thinking of the book The Ill-Made Mute by Cecilia Dart-Thornton while reading this book. If you want your fairy books without the glitter and wings and Shakespeare references, it’s another great book to consider.)
 In most stories, a red cap is a type of goblin or dwarf that dips its cap in the blood of those it kills or injures. Marillier’s Red Cap, however, doesn’t seem malevolent and is actually quite heroic. The only resemblance to the mythology is the presence of the red headgear.
 A urisk is a type of brownie, often quite helpful with housework or farming, and is known for its overwhelming sense of loneliness. Marillier’s urisk is quite a pest – he doesn’t seem to be of the helpful sort. Rather, if you give him comfort for his loneliness, he’ll follow you for the rest of your days.
 A brollachan is a boogie man of Celtic myth. In some myths, he takes the form of whatever you fear most. In others he takes the form of whatever he rests upon.
 In many Celtic stories and fiction based upon them, fey beings are often categorized as seelie (good) or unseelie (evil). Marillier avoids these terms, and the fey are surprisingly helpful in Neryn’s journey. However, their tricky natures are often alluded to, and we’re led to believe that Neryn’s canny ability is why they aren’t out to trick her.
Travis' Book Review: Just Write: Here's How! by Walter Dean Myers
Walter Dean Myers has written or co-written over 100 books for teens and young readers, but in this offering, Myers expands on his role as a literary ambassador to young people. Just Write: Here’s How! uses a number of anecdotes from his own life and even adding pages from his own notebooks, Myers gives his audience a step-by-step description of the writing method he has used over the course of his career. He explains, “With these tools and a willingness to do the hard work of writing, you will be able to get to the end of a poem or a story or even a book.”
It is with a cool understanding of who he is as writer, that Myers defines the characteristics of the craft that brought success to him. He explains that he could have walked down the wrong path, the path of the many misguided young people he tries to reach, but instead focused his attention on books. It was the library that opened up the concept that there are others worlds outside of the streets he grew up on – an alternative path to walk. Myers tells his audience, “Read everything you can, looking for ideas that give you hope and expand your sense of what’s possible.” Unfortunately for Myers, while reading books, he also came to the understanding that there wasn’t a lot of literature meant for youth like him, so he started writing until he became the writer that he is today.
As prolific as he is, though, Myers feels that he is not a particularly talented writer because writing does not come easy to him. Writing is hard work, and he relies on structure and diligence to get to the end of a book. The methodology presented to the readers is easily understood and does not bog down the overall concept of the book. Myers’ tone is also one of encouragement, and his simple and direct writing makes a very positive impact on the reader, giving inspiration, as well as instruction. While he does express the hardship of writing, like rejection, the editing process, and constant rewrites, he also expresses the need of young writers to tell their stories because he is living proof that writing has the potential to save lives. Writing not only serves the story, but serves the storyteller.
It is Myers’ hope that his words do inspire young people to read and write, and Just Write should be read by all young people whether or not they intend to be writers. The beauty of the book is that while it is intended to be an inspirational guide to writing, it is also an inspirational story of a troubled youth that became a successful writer – even though that writer still posts magazine clippings of people over his desk to help him visualize his characters. Even through hardships that face the writer, Walter Dean Myers is a great success, but he judges his success on whether or not he is able to make a positive change in the lives of young people. Just Write: Here’s How! is a great example of the power of writing and will educate and inspire any young writer that just needs a push toward the right direction.
Myers even seems to speak for all of the book lovers in the world when he says, “I am grateful for you, an aspiring writer of book we’ll all read tomorrow.”
Next year’s Teen Summer Reading program is still several months away, but never fear! Teen Winter Reading is here, beginning today and ending February 28th!
Teen Winter Reading is like Teen Summer Reading’s little brother who hasn’t grown up yet. To participate, read a book—any book, as long as it’s on your reading level—and then fill out a Teen Winter Reading review form telling us what you thought about the book! Reviews will be entered into weekly prize drawings, in which you could win fun beanies and great teen books! Entries will be accepted until the end of February, when we’ll draw for our grand prize of a new iPod Touch!
Review forms can be found at any SCPL branch or online at http://www.infodepot.org/forms/TeenSRform.asp.
Susan's Book Review: With Courage and Cloth by Ann Bausum
Several years ago I saw a great movie called Iron Jawed Angelsthat opened my eyes to the women’s suffrage movement. Prior to that, I knew some of the important names like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but I didn’t realize that women who began the fight didn’t live to see it won. Other women, namely Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, took up the cause and were ultimately victorious. The battle for women’s right to vote lasted 72 years (from 1848-1920), but the book focuses on the final years, from 1913-1920.
There were two camps focused on gaining women the right to vote and they had different methods. One was the National Woman’s Party (headed by Paul) and the other was the National American Woman Suffrage Association (headed by Catt). Paul’s tactics were more in-your-face and mostly involved picketing in front of the White House. It kept suffrage in the papers and on people’s minds. The title of the book refers to the banners the picketers held as they peacefully protested. They were tolerated at first (President Wilson ordered the White House staff to offer them coffee), but after World War I began, tensions were high and many felt the women were out of line. Eventually people started to heckle the picketers, and police would not protect the women from the mobs that formed, but rather arrest them on phony charges. More than 200 women were arrested and about 100 served time in jail. Some famously went on hunger strikes, only to be force fed by prison staff, and it became a public relations mess for President Wilson.
Catt’s NAWSA took a different approach. They felt Paul and the NWP were accomplishing nothing by offending politicians they needed to support the suffrage amendment. They divided their time working for the war effort and fighting for the amendment by keeping on the good side of President Wilson. Although the two groups didn’t work together, they did end up complementing each other. One was seen as militant and the other as amiable, and I think both were needed.
Adding a constitutional amendment is no easy task. They had to convince the House and the Senate at the federal level, then they had to get 36 state governments (3/4 of the union) to ratify it to become law. Many states were ahead of the game (mostly in the west) and had already granted women the right to vote, but others (mostly in the south) were anti-suffrage and fought against it. By the election in 1920, women had full suffrage rights, but it would take over 36 years for as many women to vote as men.
I think this book is lovely and shines a spotlight on deserving women that history has somewhat ignored. It has numerous pictures of key players and events, interesting quotes, and it’s printed in the colors of the suffrage movement: purple, gold and white. Not many books make me wish I had a report due, but this one does!
When Zach Hunter was studying slavery at the age of twelve, he came home from school and told his mom, “Man, if I had lived back then, I would have fought for equality, and against slavery.”That’s when Hunter’s mom told him that slavery still exists in many forms around the world, and that’s when his life changed forever.As a twelve year-old, he began a campaign called Loose Change for Loose Chains to motivate students to get involved in ending slavery around the world and became a modern-day abolitionist, speaking to hundreds of thousands of people each year. According to Real Simple magazine, there is over 10.5 million dollars in loose change lying around American households.Loose Chains for Loose Chains inspires students in schools and youth groups to collect that change and donate it to organizations such as International Justice Mission, a group that rescues people from human trafficking and other forms of oppression.Hunter has since written several books inspiring other young people to make a change for the 27 million people around the world trapped in slavery.At age 14, he began writing Be the Change, and this year, he released an updated copy of the book.
I first became aware of how much of problem slavery still is when I attended Passion 2012 this past January.Passion is a yearly Christian conference for people ages 18 to 25, and while I was excited to hear artists such as Chris Tomlin, Christy Nockels, and the David Crowder Band and see speakers such as Beth Moore and Francis Chan, I had no idea how much of an impact the “charitable” aspect of Passion would have on me. Each day, the organizers of the event showed a video telling the story of four real-life, modern-day slaves.One woman had gone to another country on the promise of a job in a restaurant and had been forced into prostitution.One man had been born into slavery because his father owed a debt he could not pay off and was forced to work in rice fields each day for a wage so low that he would spend his life trying to pay it off.Each day, we were encouraged to donate to various charities dedicated to fighting slavery, and when we did, we were encouraged to write on slave made items such as jeans, rice bags, soccer balls, shoes, and Christmas ornaments. These were used to create a giant statue of a hand raised high for justice.Over three million dollars was raised in the course of the four-day conference.
When I saw Be the Change on the shelves a few weeks ago, I hoped it would address the issues I had learned about at Passion and tell me what I could do about them.Since leaving the conference, I’ve often wondered how I should be living my life differently, knowing that there are 27 million slaves in the world, more than at any point in history.What should I do, knowing that even in Atlanta, human trafficking exists?Should I stop buying clothes from the mall, since I really had no way of knowing whether or not they were slave made?Should I donate more to the organizations I’d heard of at Passion?I was excited that we had a book on our shelves that would answer my questions and raise awareness about slavery in a way that was specifically addressed to teens.
Be the Changeis far more than a book about ending slavery, though.It’s a book about dreaming big, using one’s passion for good, living in community, and sacrificing for others.Hunter has the book divided up into chapters such as “Influence,” “Courage,” “Leadership,” “Compassion,” and “Sacrifice.”Each of these chapters then features a profile of either a slave or someone who worked to end slavery and then gives ideas for how teens can live out the character trait from that chapter’s title.His examples are similar to the stories I heard at Passion.Hunter also uses Biblical examples of those who stood firm against injustice, such as Esther, who risked death to save her cousin, or the “three vegans” King Nebuchadnezzar tried to burn alive when they wouldn’t renounce their beliefs.Each chapter ends with discussion questions for readers to answer or think about and suggestions about how to “be the change.”
I do wish Hunter had given more specific examples of what teens could do to end slavery.Most of his ideas for action are tacked on to the end of the discussion questions and are written in short blurbs. Since I was reading the book on my own and not with a group, it was tempting for me to skip over the questions to begin with, and I also wish Hunter had just been more specific.He mentions that teens should buy fair trade items, but he doesn’t explain what this means.He says teens shouldn’t buy goods that they suspect may be slave made, but he doesn’t tell them how to find out which items are slave made and which items aren’t.I do think Hunter does a great job raising awareness about the issue of modern-day slavery because there are many teens who may not know that it still exists at all, and I think the book is helpful in encouraging teens to use their influence and passion for good in other ways as well.
I would recommend this book to almost anyone.Slavery is a problem that people of any age need to know about.I don’t think it would likely be as enjoyable to non-Christians, since Hunter does use plenty of scripture and Biblical references throughout, but I think anyone could appreciate that Hunter is a teen who actually lives out his faith and whose relationship with God actually causes him to do something for others.I can see teens in a youth group or discipleship group getting the most out of Be the Change, as it would be great to answer the discussion questions and figure out ways to fight slavery with a group of friends.I think having an older leader present to research and organize teen efforts could be helpful, though there are plenty of resources available for resourceful teens to do this on their own.The book is also inspiring simply because Hunter is teen himself and has done much to end slavery already.
Heather's Book Review: A Devil and Her Love Song, Volume 1 by Miyoshi
Maria Kawai is a devil. At least, everyone around her thinks she is. She’s beautiful, she’s smart. She’s just been expelled from a high-class school. “You taint everyone around you” were the parting words given by the person she thought was her best friend. Now she’s starting at a new school, and rumors are swirling around her. Just who is this girl who seems to bring out the worst in everyone? Fellow students Yusuke Kanda and Shin Meguro are determined to find out. What they discover is most unexpected.
Miyoshi Tomori’sA Devil and Her Love Song (Volume 1) being a manga, I half-expected the title to refer to an actual devil getting up to dramatic high school shojo romance hijinks, and I thoroughly expected to have no interest in skimming beyond the first few pages. I certainly didn’t expect the first few pages to hook me, much less to lead me to reach the end of the book before I knew it, but that’s precisely what happened.
In this manga, Maria Kawai is not a devil, but rather an exceptionally intuitive girl who can see people for what they actually are. She doesn’t have the patience for fakes, and so she exposes their flaws and falsities with absolute frankness. She’s not evil per se, but her blunt revelations—and the lack of remorse with which she airs them—lead the people affected by them to react strongly, and not always in a positive manner. That said, it’s easy to see why she’s perceived as a devil like character. Naturally, when revelations like that happen, drama ensues. The other girls in the class decide that something has to be done about Maria. And Maria accepts the challenge.
Normally I’m not a fan of dramatic shojo manga because it ends up being too dramatic and centers too much on a passionate romance or some similar subject that I don’t really care about. A Devil and Her Love Song, in contrast to these other manga, excels because it’s not about a girl suffering traditional shojo problems and then whining about them only to be saved by the series’ hot leading man. It’s about a girl who is already a strong character, who just happens to be surrounded by whirlwinds of drama of her unintentional making, and then gets through them on her own strong personality, with minimal help from others.
Maria strikes me as the strong-willed, unaffected classroom tiger that all teen girls wish to be at some point. Regardless of which clique or class they belong to, all teen girls wish they could go up to the cruel, beautiful, duplicitous queen bee of the class, tell her what she really is, and then have everyone step back in dramatic silence, in absolute wonder that she’s just spoken the truth about this fake. And though most teens like to say that they don’t care about what others think of them, these same teens can’t deny that they’ve been affected by the snide remarks thrown by a rival or bully. Maria doesn’t have time to be affected by the gossip of others. In fact, when she first arrives at her new school, she addresses the fact that she’s being gossiped about point-blank, airs all the dirty facts that people are gossiping about, and then tells the gossips to do with them what they will. She is the ultimate picture of teen personal strength, and despite what the title would lead readers to assume, she’s actually a positive, even admirable character. Maria does have some personal weaknesses—for all her seeming indifference, she does genuinely wish for acceptance—but these weaknesses are reasonable and realistic, and do not necessarily make her a weaker character.
Not that I’m encouraging teen girls to totally adopt her way of interacting with the world. Maria gets away with her frankness because, in the rules of her story’s universe, she is the intuitive one, and she does speak the truth about people’s flaws. This is not always the case when people blurt about flaws in a real school setting, and of course the resultant drama rarely ends as smoothly IRL as it does for Maria. I love Maria’s absolute distance from the cattiness going on around her, though. She knows how silly it is, and she lifts herself above it. I love that she’s a teen character who looks at the drama around her and says, “This drama is stupid. You should get over it.”
There’s more to the manga than Maria being socially detached and omnipotent, though. Much of the manga’s quality comes from its well-balanced cast of characters. Once it’s clear that they’re going to form the main cast, Maria, Yusuke, and Shin’s personalities complement each other solidly—Maria is mysterious and blunt, liked by few; Yusuke likes everyone, indiscriminately; and Shin is Yusuke’s aloof, sometimes brusque, but also attractive pal who complements them both. Yusuke and Shin are individually well-presented, too. Every shojo manga seems to have a super cute male character that bursts into kittyface every other panel and a distant, dark male who makes girls swoon with his aloofness. Yusuke and Shin are these types, respectively, but they are not exaggerated to the point of ridiculousness that these character types tend to be. Yusuke has a genuine concern for Maria that goes beyond “I’m going to be the cute one who trails you for reader entertainment!” and Shin’s concern for Maria, though it naturally takes longer for it to occur, is believable when it happens. And while it’s clear by the end of this volume that Maria is likely to end up in a closer relationship with one of them, the manga doesn’t focus as much on this budding romance as it does the characters themselves. Ultimately, this is not a manga about Maria Making Friends and Getting the Guy, but a manga about Maria Being Awesome Because She is Awesome, and earning some genuine pals in the process.
It’s this finely balanced combination of personalities that also lets the manga get away with elements that would just be silly in other manga. In one of the manga’s more memorable elements, Yusuke takes it upon himself to teach her Maria the art of the “lovely spin”—basically, how to say what she means in a way that doesn’t turn people away, and how to appropriately tilt her head to make herself look more charming when she says it—in order to make her seem more likable, and thus better able to make friends. Rather than using this for cutesie purposes, the manga layers this perfectly over Maria’s stoic manner; she never gets the lovely spin exactly right, an awkward bit of frankness always slipping into her words, and hilarity results. And Maria doesn’t care, ‘cause she’s cool like that. There are moments of cuteness, but they meld well with the tone that the author is aiming for—a tone that is self-consciously aloof and amusing at the same time.
All in all, provided that A Devil and Her Love Song maintains its quality in future volumes, it has the potential to be one of the underappreciated shojo manga greats. Despite its main character’s exaggerated truth-telling ability, it features lots of realistic drama and even explores bullying and the nature of true friendship, making it a read that any teen girl who has ever had bully or friend drama could get into. It’s also quite clean, which makes it a good introductory manga for teens who are new to the format and not accustomed to the utter weirdness that is more typical of manga. It’s also a super-fast read, so even if it doesn’t end up being your cup of tea, at least it won’t take too much of your time.
Crewel, the first book in a new dystopian series by Gennifer Albin, is one-of-a-kind. In a genre that’s quickly being saturated with Hunger Gamesrip-offs or love stories hiding behind a dystopian façade, Albin masterfully weaves dystopian with fantasy to create Crewel World.
In the world of Arras, men are in control, while women have very limited options. Girls must be married at age 18, and their careers are chosen for them by the government. The only women that appear to have a modicum of freedom are the Spinsters – women with the ability to control the threads of life (obviously inspired by the Fates in Greek mythology). Their special ability allows them to carefully monitor and control the weather, food and even life spans and memories. Even Spinsters, however, answer to the male-run Guild, the ruling force in Arras.
Crewel’sheroine, Adelice Lewys, passes the mandatory test to enter training as a Spinster, to the dismay of her parents. After a failed escape from her fate, she is viewed with contempt and suspicion in her new position. What’s more, Adelice has a secret she’s been warned to keep hidden – she has the rare ability to see the threads of life without a loom, making her invaluable to the Guild. As Adelice uncovers secrets the Guild would like to keep hidden, Adelice and those she loves find themselves in ever-increasing danger.
In Crewel, classic dystopian themes are evident, such as the constant observation and iron-fisted government control from 1984, or the disempowerment of women found in The Handmaid’s Tale. Although the methods used by the Guild, the manipulation of elemental threads, are different from those found in the aforementioned novels, they are stifling and oppressive, nonetheless.
But Albin’s blending of traditional themes with popular young adult trends separates her from those classic books, making Crewel easier to recommend to readers who are searching for “Hunger Games read-alikes.” Like the protagonists in Harry Potter, Eragon, Twilightand other trendy YA fiction series, Adelice’s rare ability increases her value to those in power. Whereas traditional dystopian literature often follows normal, mundane people with questionable worth to the authoritative body, Adelice stands out.
Crewel is a beautiful world, filled with color and intrigue. As with many fantasies, a bit of suspension of disbelief is necessary to accept the nature of Spinsters and the threads they manipulate. However, Albin does a wonderful job of explaining the nature of Arras without getting bogged down in jargon and overdone description. Albin writes beautifully, and readers will breathlessly wait for the sequel.
Travis' Book Review: The Other Normals by Ned Vizzini
At age 15, Ned Vizzini began writing a series of personal essays about his high school experience that was eventually combined to form his first book, Teen Angst? Nah…A Quasi-Autobiography.Since then, Vizzini has established his ability to charm readers with his quirky sense of a humor, an often sardonic, but equally intelligent, commentary on his own experience with social awkwardness. It is Vizzini’s personal experience and self-awareness that allow him to portray the trials and tribulations of the socially-alienated teenager, providing readers with a personal, believable, and genuinely funny account of male adolescence. In The Other Normals, Vizzini’s fourth offering, he continues the trend of exploring his own teenage years (and possibly his recent Magic: The Gathering fixation) through the eyes of Perry Eckert.
Fifteen-year-old Perry has an addiction. Unlike his brother Jake, however, Perry doesn’t drink, party, or really do anything that requires having friends and being social. And why would he? Everyone calls him “Mini Pecker.” He’s too short, too skinny, has no idea how to talk to a girl, and worst of all, Perry is addicted to role-playing-games. Specifically, Perry is obsessed with Creatures & Caverns, a blatant juxtaposition to Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, Perry is so socially alienated, he doesn’t even have anyone to actually play the game with. Instead, he spends hours on end simply reading the manuals and creating characters. One day, however, Perry meets Sam, another C&C player who smokes, swears, skips class, and begins to fuel Perry’s obsession to the point that he, himself, is skipping class just to play. His parents take notice of this new trend and decide Perry needs to learn some social skills, forcing him to attend summer camp. While at camp, Perry has a encounter with someone he wasn’t supposed to meet – Mortin Enaw, a being from The World of the Other Normals. Mortin takes Perry into his world, a land filled with many fantastical creatures, where he learns that he must embark on a quest to save the princess and thwart a rein of violence that will impact both of their universes. Perry’s quest, however, lies in his own world and will be the most difficult thing he has ever done – kiss a girl.
Unlike most fantasy novels I’ve read, The Other Normals is an incredibly quick read. Each Chapter is surprisingly short but written in a manner that makes you want to continue. I often found myself wanting to stop reading but continued the next chapter after noticing it is only a few pages long. A few pages will quickly turn into a few chapters. The best thing about the novel, though, is Vizzini’s witty sense of humor and the fact that he makes the reader very aware of the prevailing theme. The first line, “This is a story about becoming a man,” establishes that this is a coming-of-age tale, but then, the line continues, “so naturally it starts with me alone in my room playing with myself.” The writer is referring to C&C, of course, but it’s this kind of humor that sets the tone for the rest of the story.
What Vizzini does best in The Other Normals is utilize the concept of adolescent male fantasy to create believable (and often too familiar) internal dialogue. While the universe and creatures that Vizzini create are not spectacular and the quest itself, saving a princess, is cliché, it’s that fusion of the fantasy genre and real-world adolescent fantasy that keeps the story fresh. So, not only will the reader get the satisfaction of watching Perry grow on his quest to manhood, but will also get to see Perry “level up” in the fantasy sense.Plus, Vizzini does a nice job integrating the two concepts.At one point, while Perry is being attack by a pack of dog-faced human hybrids, he’s as focused on the females’ bare chests as he is with trying to avoid being eaten. Other times, it’s Vizzini’s voice shining through, offering a bit of keen social commentary. For example, when Perry looks at a map for the first time while plotting a path through a valley full of creatures known to eat travelers, he notes that the land is shaped strangely similar to New Jersey.The weakness of the novel lies in the ending. Since the book reads so fast, the ending seems too rushed.The climax and conclusion do not have the kind of epic feeling or build-up that a fantasy reader might crave, leaving holes in the fantasy portion of the narrative.
Overall, The Other Normals is both a quick and fun read. I would recommend this book to any reader that enjoys the fantasy genre, has played an RPG, or just wants to have a little fun exploring the often confused, sometimes misguided, mind of an adolescent male. While the novel is written from a male point of view, a concept that is especially noticeable when discussing puberty and adolescent male perception of girls, anyone can appreciate the humor and the insight.After all, growing up, learning to fit in, and learning how to talk to your first love, is the one adventure we all take.
Last Tuesday in School of Thought: Teen Homeschool Group, we had a Pumpkinpalooza!
Homeschool teens studied some fun facts about pumpkins, ate some pumpkin treats, and then decorated little pumpkins in the hopes of winning a grand prize of a $10 Barnes and Noble Gift Card.
We had so many awesome entries that we decided to give away some additional prizes to four runners-up! These pumpkins won prize books for their decorators. Look below to see some of the pumpkins that teens created!
Susan's Book Review: The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the gorgeously told story of 17 year-old Karou, a blue-haired art student living in Prague. Karou is human and lives among humans, but she was raised by chimaera, creatures made with a combination of human and animal aspects. She has no idea how she came to be raised by them and knows nothing about her own history—they won’t tell her anything--but she considers them her family. She lives halfway in our world and halfway in their world, visiting the shop they call home to be assigned errands to run in the human world. The errands are usually dangerous and far away--sometimes they take days to complete--and involve teeth. Human teeth.
Karou’s family includes Brimstone, her father/mentor who can grant wishes. Not all wishes are created equal, so they have different prices. For instance, wishing for flight is expensive, but wishing for blue hair is cheap. It’s Brimstone who pays handsomely for the teeth, but he won’t tell her what he does with them. One day black handprints start appearing on the doorways that serve as portals out of this world, and then the portals disappear altogether. Karou struggles to find out what’s become of her family, but is she ready to know what they’ve worked so hard to hide from her? Meanwhile, an angel named Akiva, who is tired of the never-ending war in his world, flirts with the idea of living among humans after an accidental meeting with a strange blue-haired girl.
This book is paced so well and written so beautifully that I was pleased to find out it’s the first in a trilogy. The sequel is called Days of Blood and Starlight and will be out next month. I especially love fantasies grounded in the real world because it’s important I’m able to relate to the characters, and the author has created such a fascinating world and mythology. Even though I’m sincerely tired of books that feature magic, fallen angels and pretty much anything supernatural, Daughter of Smoke and Bone proves that there is always room on the shelf for a great book, even if the plot devices sound tired.
Teen Read Week started in 1998 as an effort to encourage teens to read for the fun of it…which is something we do every day here at SCPL Teens. We crank it up a few notches for Teen Read Week, though, by running contests throughout the whole month of October.
Have you entered any of our contests yet? There are three to choose from, and you can enter all of them! (Some of them involve fine print, so read closely.) Entry forms for all contests can be picked up at any SCPL location.
Candy Counting Contest: We’ve placed jars stuffed with candy at each of our 10 branches! Correctly guess how many pieces of candy are in the jar at your branch (or come the closest), and you could win ALL THE CANDY!
Design a Bookmark Contest: Create a bookmark using the Teen Read Week theme—“It Came from the Library”—and you could win a $100 gift card to Barnes and Noble! The winning design will be professionally printed and distributed at all SCPL locations.
-To be eligible to win, participating teens, or someone living at the teen’s permanent residence, must be a full-privilege Spartanburg County Public Library cardholder.
-Design can be full color and must be 1.5” x 7” and include the 2012 Teen Read Week theme. Digital entries must be 300 dpi and saved as a .jpg, .pdf, .tiff, or .eps.
-Entries need to be accompanied by the artist’s name, address, phone #, age and grade in school, and can be turned in to any Spartanburg County Public Library location or emailed to email@example.com.
-Entries will be judged based on originality, use of theme, and design. The contest ends October 31st, and the winner will be announced in November.
It Came from the Library Photo Contest: Take a picture of yourself posing with a book that “came from the library.” The winning teen will receive a $25 Amazon gift card.
-To be eligible to win, participating teens, or someone living at the teen’s permanent residence, must be a full-privilege Spartanburg County Public Library cardholder.
-Photos must be accompanied by your name, address, phone #, age and grade in school, and can be submitted at any SCPL location or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Digital entries must be 300 dpi and saved as a .jpg, .pdf, .tiff, or .eps.
-Entries will be judged based on creativity, composition, and picture quality. The contest ends October 31st, and the winner will be announced in November.
Emily's Book Review: Supergirl Mixtapes by Meagan Brothers
Supergirl Mixtapes is the story of Maria Costello, a sixteen year old girl who leaves the comfort and familiarity of her small South Carolina town to reunite with her free-spirited artist mother in New York City.Though Maria has always felt stifled by life in the South, her father and grandmother have never allowed her to move north, fearing her mother’s irresponsible nature and general instability. When she finally gets to New York, Marialearns a lot about the excitement of city life with its late night diners, vintage record stores, and flirtatious NYU students—and about the demons hiding in her mom’s closet.Her adventure in the city starts by her mother leaving her at the train station for twelve hours and quickly progresses into the family moving to an apartment above a famous Brooklyn strip club.Plenty of music and mixtape-making is woven throughout the story.
Supergirl Mixtapes is the kind of book that is totally absorbing, the kind you scheme ways to get back to once you have to put it down.I loved the way Brothers wrote about New York City, capturing it as a living entity full of the music her character loves.I also loved Maria herself.She’s shy, but she’s confident.She faces the normal uncertainties of adolescence, but (as her mom and her mom’s young boyfriend often reflect) she’s far more “together” than an ordinary sixteen year-old.I loved watching her navigate New York with far more confidence than I could probably muster now, while still being naïve about many of her mom’s obvious problems.I felt for her because she didn’t have a supportive or even stable home life, but I was proud of her for succeeding as well as she did.Plus, Maria is simply cool—cool enough to make mixtapes for her friend Dory back home, cool enough to hang out and drink sweet tea with Southern college kids in New York, and cool enough to take care of herself when her parents don’t.
I would recommend Supergirl Mixtapesto anyone who loves music, the punk scene, or New York City—or to any teen who has felt less than mainstream at some point in her life.
Fun Fact: The author of Supergirl Mixtapes grew up in Spartanburg and now lives in New York City.
Susan's Book Review: What Comes After by Steve Watkins
I picked up this book because I heard it had an animal rights message, and I’m so glad I did! It tells the story of newly orphaned 16 year old Iris Wight. Her Mom, while still alive somewhere, abandoned her as a child, and her beloved veterinarian Dad died recently of cancer. The plan was to stay in Maine and live with her best friend Beatrice’s family, but that falls apart along with Beatrice’s parent’s marriage. Iris is then sent to live with her only relative, her Aunt Sue in North Carolina. Aunt Sue works the night shift at Wal-mart, runs a goat farm, and is raising her teenage son, Book. She’s not looking for more responsibility and is not receptive to Iris coming to live with them, but the money from Iris’s father’s estate is very welcome.
Iris loves animals and finds peace taking care of the many neglected ones on the farm. She plays with and loves on Gnarly the dog and takes over milking the goats because she’s gentler with them than Book or Sue. I thought I knew where the story was going. I figured eventually Aunt Sue would warm up to Iris, accept that she’s a vegetarian and make her a nice meal, maybe confess a story about her sister/Iris’s mom and we’d learn why she was so gruff in the first place. Instead, Iris protects some baby goats and Aunt Sue has Book beat her so badly that she ends up in the hospital and they end up in jail. After recovering, Iris is placed in foster care away from the animals she loves and feels more alone than ever. I did not see that coming!
I think the author does a great job of developing a realistic protagonist in the character of Iris. I cried for her, cheered for her, and alternately loved her and wanted to shake her. Aunt Sue was kind of a one-note character because we never find out what’s behind her rage, other than bitterness at the cards she’s been dealt. But a therapist, a love interest named Littleberry, a farmer’s market, a softball friend, her foster parents, and even the animals, make great side characters that enrich the story.
There’s a lot to learn from this book—how to make goat cheese, that ferrets can use litterboxes and need walks, that parents should have a plan A and B (and maybe even C) for the care of their children should something happen to them—but I think the biggest lesson is that family might disappoint you and friends too, but that doesn’t mean you’re alone. Several people came to Iris’s aid when she needed it most and when she finally trusted them and accepted help, things got better.
SCPL Teens has gotten a lot of new faces this summer! Over the next few weeks, we'll be featuring them here so you'll know who to look for when you need a recommendation for your next awesome teen read.
Today, meet AJ of the Inman library!
HOMETOWN: Inman, SC
THEN WHAT: I graduated from USC Upstate with a degree in History. I started working as a page in 2009 and have worked my way up.
FAMILY: My Dad is about to retire from Duke Energy and my Mom is a teacher for Spartanburg County. I am an aunt; my older sister has two kids.
HOBBIES: Well of course I love reading! It is one of my absolute favorite things to do.I also enjoy traveling as much as possible.
FAVORITE QUOTE: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” - Dr. Seuss.
FAVORITE TEEN BOOKS: I have too many favorite teen books to choose from. I love Delirium by Lauren Oliver, Matched by Ally Condie and the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. Of course the Harry Potter books are among some of my favorites.
FAVORITE NON-TEEN BOOKS: I love anything by Cathy Lamb. Most of her books are very funny except there is one of her books called Henry’s Sisters that will make you cry. So be careful about that one.
RECENTLY READ: I am almost finished with a book called Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson This bookis about Peter Pan but it is from Tinker Bell point of view. The interesting point about Tinker Bell is that she has been following Tiger Lilly around instead of Peter Pan.
Travis' Book Review: All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison
As a contemporary comic book fan, I love the lore and character of Superman, but I must admit that I generally find it difficult to be interested in Superman comics. Yeah, I know…he’s Superman! He’s the Man of Steel!He’s the square-jawed cover model for truth, justice, and the American way. Well, that’s actually kind of the problem – he is just too strong! In today’s market, Superman’s appeal seems to be mostly limited to cultural nostalgia. He has always just been the same flying, invulnerable, faster, and stronger than anyone Superman, and after 80 years of being the same character, it’s easy to lose interest.That’s why I was very excited when Grant Morrison, one of my favorite comic book writers, began writing his own interpretation of Superman. If anyone could make Superman relevant and exciting again, it would be him.Luckily, Morrison’s All-Star Supermandoes not disappoint.
All-Star Superman begins with the concept that is all too familiar to comic book readers – imminent peril.Lex Luthor has sabotaged a mission to explore the sun, and Superman, as usual, swoops in to save the day. Our hero prevails, and for his crimes against humanity, Luthor is sent to prison where he is to await his execution. Luthor’s plan, however, wasn’t actually to sabotage the mission. Knowing that the yellow sun is the source of Superman’s power, Luthor’s intention was to kill Superman by luring him too close to the sun, thus causing his cells to overcharge. The result is that Superman gains even more strength, a stronger sense of aesthetic, and an enlightened curiosity, but all at the cost of cellular breakdown. In one year, Superman will die, but he intends to use his newfound capabilities to prepare the world to become a world without Superman.
Released in 12 parts from 2005-2008, All-Star Superman pushes the idea of Superman to new heights without having to reinvent the character. Written by Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely, and inked by Jamie Grant, the series incorporates decades of established storylines, characters, and plot points without the author feeling the need to rewrite what the audience already knows. The beauty of the story is that the author and illustrators have a great understanding of what made Superman so wonderful in the Golden and Silver Age of comics. Morrison writes a very modern storyline, and the illustrators are able to capture a certain sense of brightness and glow that is oft forgotten in many modern comic series.Even amidst the artistic glow, however, it is still Morrison’s storytelling and characterization that shine brightest, allowing the reader to dive into the complex psyche of his character. This Superman is curious, enterprising, adamantly moral, and most importantly, physically and emotionally vulnerable. The audience really gets to feel what it is like to be Superman. He is not simply a being with superpowers, but a being with an enlightened sense of humanity.
The story also expands on the symbolism and mythology of the character. Morrison chose to call the story “All-Star” because it is a recurring DC title meant to showcase the company’s big players. Morrison actually uses a more literal approach to the title, transforming Superman into a celestial being. The character shines such a light on the planet that he has become as big and as important to humanity as the sun itself. In that way, Superman is a figure, an idea, and a beacon that shines light on spirit of man can become - not only in the universe of these characters, but for the reader, as well. It’s a concept that may seem a little outdated for modern readers, but Morrison is able to write in a way that a fan of Superman, a first-time reader, and even a skeptic like me can feel the wonder that was once and still is Superman. That said, I would highly recommend All-Star Superman to any comic book fan or any reader willing to try a new medium.
I started Joseph Monninger’s Wish assuming, for some reason, that it was a book about mermaids. Really, it is a book about a teen girl, her terminally ill brother, and sharks. The sharks were enough to make me keep reading. Normally I’m not a fan of sick kid books because 1) they are depressing, 2) they make a saint of the sick kid without truly acknowledging how much it stinks to be terminally ill, 3) the crisis point in the story is always predictable, and 4) you just know someone’s going to die at the end of it all. Wish is half of these things—different in some refreshing ways, but ultimately what you would expect from a novel that makes a big deal about granting a slowly dying kid’s biggest wish.
Fifteen-year-old Bee has a brother with Cystic Fibrosis. Said brother Tommy is eleven years old, but his lungs keep him from acting like one because they frequently fill up with mucus, thus (among other things) making it difficult for him to breathe. However, while he can’t do very physical activities, he is also a shark enthusiast in the way that only eleven year old boys can be. His biggest wish is to get the chance to swim with sharks, and when a Make-a-Wish-style organization offers him the chance to do just that, he, Bee, and their desperate-for-companionship mother head to California to satisfy his greatest wish.
As Terminally Ill Kid stories go, Wish is not a bad read, though it is a typical example of its story type. It mixes tragic moments with uplifting ones, but is never melodramatic, nor deeply saccharine, and is thus a book I would recommend for a teen who is in a similar situation as the main character. Also, the angle provided by Tommy’s zealous love of sharks and shark facts makes the novel significantly more interesting than it would have been otherwise, and even ties in with Tommy’s perspective on his illness in several interesting ways. Bee, too, has several meaningful realizations over the course of the story that could be relevant and encouraging to any reader in her place. Also—spoiler—Tommy doesn’t die at the end, another benefit for a reader looking for some hope in their sibling’s situation.
Wish’s main flaws, to me, are the middle two that I mentioned earlier. First, it almost sanctifies Tommy. In this book, he isn’t an eleven year old kid frustrated with life because his lungs don’t work. He’s a serene, pleasant boy whose quiet acceptance of his condition is admired by and inspiring to all characters in the book. Bee notices some moments of disappointment in him over the course of the book, but even these are subtle, contained, “Look at how brave he’s being!” moments. I remember myself at eleven. Colds and minor knee scrapes gave me reason enough to be mad at the world for days at a time, so I find it hard to believe that even a fictional eleven year old could go a whole book without being more than lightly disappointed at his lot in life. Second, the book has a predictable crisis point. When Tommy gets a chance to swim with his hero and shark attack survivor Ty Barry, our finely honed Reader Senses see that the book is near its end, and then tell us that it’s time for the story’s crisis and climax. It’s not even surprising when an Ominously Huge Wave comes to act on its Ominous Hugeness, with Tommy in the middle of it.
Another significant flaw, in my opinion, was the inclusion of a minor romantic arc between Bee and the young surfer Little Brew, which emerges late in the novel. The story having focused on her relationship with her brother until this point, this arc seemed out of place. Also, throughout the novel, a lot of strife is caused by their mother’s determination to find a new male companion, even in the midst of a trip that is so clearly supposed to be about her son. Bee is especially frustrated by this, so when she decides that a relationship with this hot, kind (and generally perfect and bland) surfer dude could enrich her in some way, it feels even more out of place, and even a little hypocritical on her part. I doubt this was the intention of the author, since the book is intended to be a positive one, but it was nonetheless present—and irritating. Generally I can’t stand books where girls think their problems can be solved by getting a date (unless that date can bring something other than Being a Hot Boy to the relationship). I especially can’t stand it when they get irritated at their moms for doing the exact same thing.
Overall, though, for the reader who is looking for a book of its sort, Wish is a book worth trying.
The wait is over! The Photobook: Spartanburg 2012 exhibit is now on display in the AT&T Exhibition Gallery (and will be through the end of September). We had a great turnout for the Opening Reception on Thursday, September 6th. Over 50 of you came!
The judging process was tough this year—we had so many great submissions!—but after much debate, we narrowed the winners down to these three photos…
Third Place (and a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card) went to Cherell Harp for her vibrant motorcycle close up.
Second Place (and a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card) went to Hannah Marie Wayne for this summery shot. Doesn’t it make you wish you were still on vacation?
And last, but definitely not least, First Place (and a digital camera) went to Clay Knight, for this serene, classic Southern porch view.
We also drew a random winner from all participants who completed the Photo Scavenger Hunt. This year’s winner was Mary Evington! She took a lot of cool photos, but our favorite was this shot of the newly remodeled airport:
Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to all participants for showing us an awesome teen’s-eye-view of Spartanburg! We hope you’ll join us next year for Photobook: Spartanburg 2013!
SCPL Teens has gotten a lot of new faces this summer! Over the next few weeks, we'll be featuring them here so you'll know who to look for when you need a recommendation for your next awesome teen read.
Today, meet Jennifer of the Headquarters library!
HOMETOWN: Augusta, Georgia
THEN WHAT:I have a Bachelor’s degree in communications, with a focus in journalism, from Augusta State University. I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter, copy editor and page designer. Currently, I’m working on my Masters of Library and Information Science through USC-Columbia.
FAMILY: I have a 9-year-old son, one sister, two brothers, two step-brothers, two step-sisters and three sets of parents. My family tops the charts when it comes to blended families!
HOBBIES: I am an avid reader (like a book every day or two), and I watch far more television than anyone should. I’m a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy, and that carries over from reading into movies and television. (Ask the other Teen Room staff – I’m horribly addicted to Doctor Who!) I also enjoy playing RPGs on my computer when time permits. (Skyrim and Guild Wars 2 are my two current games).
FAVORITE QUOTE:"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually — from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint — it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff."— The Tenth Doctor, Doctor Who
“Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you'd most like not to lose.”
― Neil Gaiman
FAVORITE TEEN BOOKS:It’s so hard to choose just one! Some current favorites include Divergent, anything by Kristin Cashore, Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Cinder.
FAVORITE NON-TEEN BOOKS: I’m a huge fan of George R.R. Martin, and I am impatiently waiting on his next book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. I also enjoy Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles. And I can’t forget to mention classic dystopian fiction books – Fahrenheit 451, 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale.
RECENTLY READ: I just finished reading Crewel, an awesome blend of dystopian and fantasy fiction by Gennifer Albin, which will be released in October. I’m also reading the Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody and the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness.
Emily's Book Review: A Midsummer Tight's Dream by Louise Rennison
What happens when you plop an ordinary teen girl down in a prestigious performing arts school in the north of England?A Midsummer Tight’s Dreamby Louise Rennison answers this question with Tallulah Casey, a young Irish lass who tells us her concerns about the town boys and her own knobby knees in British slang that is so thick and hilarious that it requires Rennison to provide American readers with a glossary in the back of the book. The storyline itself is the stuff of pure, frothy chick lit, and the plot centers around the problems and adventures that many teenage girls face. Is Tallulah a good “snogger” (kisser)? What do the boys from Woolfe Academy mean when they speak in their own indecipherable “boy language”? How does she hide her hated knees and stop her “Tourette’s syndrome of the legs” from making her break out into Irish dances at inopportune times?
Though there were many things I enjoyed about this book, I never found myself fully absorbed in the story. Tallulah’s misadventures were amusing, and I did laugh out loud more than once while reading, but for whatever reason, I did not find myself longing to come back to the book when I put it down. I think, honestly, I would have enjoyed it more if I were still a teen girl myself, and I was disappointed that the book did not in any way mirror my favorite Shakespeare play, despite its title. I did love the British slang, however, though I had some trouble understanding it at first. In fact, my favorite part was the glossary at the end, which contained entries such as “plectrum—Surely you know what a plectrum is? How do you pluck your guitars in America? And I know you do pluck a lot of guitars because I’ve seen old repeats of Bonananza and Dallas. But I will explain… it’s that bit of plastic stuff that you hold in your fingers to stroke the strings so that you don’t chip your nail polish.” Many of the other entries in the glossary were amusing, as was the humorous way Tallulah viewed the world.
I would recommend A Midsummer Tight’s Dream to anyone looking for an amusing way to pass a few hours and especially to teen girls who enjoy British humor or who are fans of Rennison’s previous work.
THEN WHAT: I graduated from Converse College in 2010 with a BA in English and a minor in Secondary Education. I spent most of my life wanting to teach middle school students, and I have taught in several schools as a long-term substitute, including McCracken and Woodruff Middle School. These days, though, I’m happy to be surrounded by books in the library, and I’m excited to get to know the teens who come to HQ.
FAMILY: I’m an only child, and my parents are Tom and Janie Green of Inman, SC.
HOBBIES: It’s a given that I love to read, and curling up with a book I’m excited about and a white chocolate mocha is my favorite way to relax. I also enjoy cooking, crocheting, and being crafty in general. On the flip side, though, I can be quite loud and silly. I love listening to music and breaking out into song at unexpected times (though you won’t find me doing that here in the library!), and I also love hearing my favorite bands live.
FAVORITE QUOTES: “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are your works and that my soul knows very well.” – Psalm 139:13-14 (NKJV)
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” – Matthew 6:25-26 and 33-34 (NKJV)
FAVORITE TEEN BOOKS: I love anything by Sarah Dessen, as well the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty. I’m a bit obsessed with all things Hunger Games, and I wish I had Katniss Everdeen’s fire and strength (as well as my own older version of Peeta).
FAVORITE NON-TEEN BOOKS:Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
RECENTLY READ:Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality is the best book I’ve read in a long time. My favorite teen book that I’ve read this year is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I used at least half a box of tissues on that one, but I loved it because the characters were so honest and real to me.
Travis' Book Review: The Punk Ethic by Timothy Decker
Timothy Decker’s Punk Ethic is a story about a 17-year-old musician named Martin that attempts to explain the traditional ethics of punk music to the current generation. One day, after writing a story about the atrocities of landmines, Martin’s teacher asks him, “What are you going to do about it?” Suddenly, the typically unmotivated Martin is inspired to meet the challenge and focuses on organizing a benefit show to raise money toward disarming landmines.
The change in Martin’s character from unmotivated youth into activist is a nice character shift because it demonstrates the idea of making a stand for a cause you believe in. This helps the author convey and highlight the DIY attitude and pragmatic nature that is the foundation of punk. To help his cause, Decker ever utilizes a very inspiring quote by Theodore Roosevelt:“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
While the novel does have its flaws, like Martin’s sometimes lackluster dialogue and Decker’s mishandling of a few complex themes that appear near the end of the novel, the success of the story is that the writer does capture the often misunderstood ideals of traditional punk philosophy.In that way, this novel may just inspire someone.
SCPL Teens has gotten a lot of new faces this summer! Over the next few weeks, we'll be featuring them here so you'll know who to look for when you need a recommendation for your next awesome teen read.
Today, meet Travis of the Headquarters library!
THEN WHAT:I graduated from USC Upstate with a B.A. in Journalism, where I also worked as a tutor for voice and diction. After graduating, I fell into customer service and management but decided it wasn’t for me—I needed to pursue my interests! So, here I am!
FAMILY: Tim, Martha, and Crystal are my immediate family, but I have a number of friends that are as close to being brothers as I’ll ever have.
HOBBIES: I love the arts in general - making music, writing, drawing, painting, and photography. I’m also a big music, film, video game, and comic book junkie. Don’t let that fool you, though, I spend my mornings in the gym, and I’m a football fanatic!
FAVORITE QUOTE:It’s from a song by Frank Turner: “Life is about love, last minutes and lost evenings, about fire in our bellies and furtive little feelings,and the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering, and help us with remembering that the only thing that's left to do is live."
FAVORITE TEEN BOOKS:I love Naruto and, of course, Harry Potter, but I have a soft spot for classics like Hatchet and To Kill a Mockingbird.
FAVORITE NON-TEEN BOOKS:Fight Club, The Crow (graphic novel), Final Crisis, Revolution on Canvas, and Neuromancer
RECENTLY READ:Punk Ethic, Old Man Logan, the latest Shonen Jump, and currently pacing through A Song of Fire and Ice
Jennifer's Book Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Lola wants three things in life – to go to the winter formal dressed as Marie Antoinette, to have her parents approve of her boyfriend, Max, and to never, ever see the Bell twins again. Other than those three wishes, things are going pretty smoothly for 17-year-old Lola. Twenty-two-year-old Max is the perfect boyfriend, and Lola’s well on her way to meeting her New Year’s resolution of not wearing the same outfit twice during the year. However, things are about to change when wish number three fails to come true, and the Bell family returns to the house next door, along with twins Calliope and Cricket. (Yes, his name is Cricket.) Cricket was Lola’s first love and first heartbreak, and life turns topsy-turvy now that he’s returned.Commence love triangle – who does Lola really want, Max or Cricket?
Author Stephanie Perkins writes a compelling story about the confusion and thrill of love. Unlike many authors who incorporate romance into their stories (whether it’s paranormal, contemporary or other), Perkins shows us why the two protagonists fell in love. It’s beyond the physical (although there is that); it’s a deeper emotional and intellectual connection between the two protagonists. Far too many novels seem to make a love connection based on “smoldering eyes” and “tousled hair” and “eyes that burned into me” instead of a true bond between the two. Lola’s love goes beyond this.
But Lola and the Boy Next Door is not just a contemporary romance; it’s also a book of self-discovery. Beneath the outfits that Lola creates, who is Lola really? This is a theme that Perkins returns to again and again, as Lola lovingly describes each of her elaborate costumes. (She wants to be a costume designer when she’s older.) Whether she’s dressed like Cleopatra, complete with wig and kohl makeup, or like a 1950s waitress, Lola rarely looks the same two days in a row. The few times she’s caught in her own skin – her hair down, jeans and a plain shirt, someone is bound to say it’s rare to see the “real Lola.” Although Lola brushes the comments off at first, they begin to get to her – does she dress this way to hide her true self? Which Lola does her friends, family and love interests prefer?
I really enjoyed Lola, perhaps more than Perkins first novel. Lola is bold and independent. She may have a streak of selfishness, and her loyalty to her friends and family is tested by her relationship with Max, but she works hard to remain true to herself in order to discover what she wants and needs out of life.
Susan's Book Review: Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun by Geoffrey Canada
Fist Stick Knife Gun is an autobiographical graphic novel by educator Geoffrey Canada.
If you’ve seen the documentary Waiting for “Superman,” he’s the guy at the beginning who uses the title phrase to explain what he felt he was doing as a child growing up in the Bronx in the 50s and 60s. I like reading stories about other people’s lives, especially when their life is so different and more dramatic than my own. Things that stressed me out as a kid: getting all A’s to make my Dad happy, arguing with my big sister over petty things, wishing my cats could live indoors. Things that stressed Canada out as a kid: proving he could fight to kids on his block, proving he could fight to kids at school, worrying that he really didn’t know how to fight. All that and his mother was raising four boys on her own in a tough neighborhood.
This book covers his life from age 4 to somewhere in his mid-teens and then shows him in college at the end. I was interested in those lost years because I wondered when he decided to go to college and how that went over in his neighborhood, so I looked him up online and turns out he went to live with his grandparents in Long Island in his mid-teens, so that might explain that. In any case, Canada went on to earn a Master’s degree in education from Harvard and then went back to New York City to help kids as president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone. I’m fascinated by people who devote their lives to causes bigger than themselves and this book helped me to realize what inspired Canada to do just that.
Fist Stick Knife Gun was originally released as a non-fiction book in 1995, but I think a graphic novel adaptation was a smart move and I will be sure to suggest this book to teens I think will like it!
Heather's Book Review: Steampunk: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant
As much as I love steampunk, I have to admit that I often get jaded with it.For every innovative entry, there seem to be twice as many books or movies that stick some brass goggles or clockwork bits on a character without giving them any purpose other than to look cool.Fortunately, Steampunk:An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Storiesis an entry to the former category.This collection of short stories, compiled by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, flaunts all the gears and steam and clockwork that one would expect, but it also explores new heights and depths of the genre.
The compilation features stories by such familiar authors as Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, and Garth Nix, as well as several authors that I was previously unfamiliar with, but definitely intend to look up now.The stories themselves explore varied and entertaining ground, from the somber almost-romance of Cassandra Clare’s “Some Unfortunate Future Day” to the steampunked Ancient Rome found in M.T. Anderson’s “The Oracle Engine.”If you can stomach some vaguely disturbing grossness, it’s hard not to enjoy the morbid optimism of Cory Doctorow’s “Clockwork Fagin.”The Sherlock-Holmes-meets-Frankenstein spirit of Ysabeau S. Wilce’s “Hand in Glove” made it another of my favorite stories.
The anthology slows down somewhat in the middle, since the stories found there are less conspicuously steampunk than one might expect, but their takes on the subgenre—more magical realism than outright fantasy—are nonetheless intriguing, even if their pace is a bit leisurely.Anyway, soon after this little break, the anthology regains its momentum, closing with a set of stories that arguably epitomize everything steampunkers love about their favorite genre—adventure, quirky inventions with bombastic names, and societies where people are inseparable from clever machines, whether they like it or not.
I’m not typically a fan of short story anthologies; oddly, I get impatient with the length of the individual stories.However, this was one of the few that I not only enjoyed, but whizzed through in a mere few days, and even admired for the variety of its contents and the way they were organized.On its back, the book calls itself “an anthology that defies even as it defines the genre.”For once, a book praises itself accurately.
Jennifer's Book Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Alina and Mal have been together since they were children, orphans of war gathered by a duke known for his altruism. Now grown, they hold positions in the First Army of Ravka. When their regiment makes a trip to the Fold, an unnaturally darkened swath of land littered with strange beasts, they are attacked. With lives in the balance, Alina reveals a dormant power, shocking those around her, especially the Darkling.
A powerful man and second only to the king himself, the Darkling takes Alina away from Mal and her unit, saying that she may be the key to saving the kingdom from the darkness of the Fold. But Alina learns that her troubles have just begun as she begins to navigate her new magical world, learning more about herself in the process.
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo portrays a wonderful fantasy world based (very, very loosely) on Russian culture. (Russian purists may be a bit upsets at the extreme liberties she took with her language and descriptions, but since I’m not familiar with it at all, it didn’t bother me one bit.) The main character is flawed, lacking self-confidence and a bit too concerned with outer beauty, but she speaks her mind and is persistent in the face of adversity. Her confidence grows as she finally learns about the magical part of herself that was hidden for so long.
Yet while Alina’s feelings about herself, as well as those toward her lifelong friend and love, Mal, and the powerful, mysterious Darkling, do play a central role in the novel, Shadow and Bone really should be about the struggle of power and the intrigue of court. Bardugo would have done well to have expanded a bit more on both of these themes, and less time on Alina’s fascination with beauty and her turmoil over her love interests. Hopefully Bardugo will expand more upon the wars with the neighboring countries and the history and consequences of the Fold in future novels.
Ultimately, Shadow and Bone is a fast-paced, beautifully created fantasy world. It’s difficult to put down once begun, and readers will be eager to find out more.
Bronwyn's Book Review: The Agency series by Y. S. Lee
What if more women of the Victorian era stepped out of their “proper” places?What if men weren’t the only ones allowed to have real jobs and get their hands dirty? What if, somewhere, women decided that they could prove their intelligence and hold the same places in society as men?
These questions are whatThe Agencyseries is based on. Mary, a convicted pickpocket, is saved from hanging by two mysterious women who run a school for girls. Their mission is to train women for jobs such as governesses and teachers; to give them the option of supporting themselves instead of ending up in a loveless marriage. A few years after attending the school, Mary’s instructors decide to entrust her with becoming a member of The Agency. The Agency is a secret organization that runs under the cover of the school for girls. The amazing thing about the Agency is that it’s comprised only of female private investigators. The school for girls acts as a cover for the organization, and Mary soon finds out how difficult being a member of The Agency actually is.
InA Spy in the House, the first assignment Mary is given is to act as a female companion to the daughter of one of London’s richest businessmen. It is suspected that Mr. Thorold is involved in money related crimes, and it is Mary’s job to listen around the household for any information that might lead to solid evidence. Set in both high society and the underbelly of Victorian London, these books show the sharp contrast of two opposing social classes by having the protagonist be someone who can swiftly move between the two. Mary frequently disguises herself as a boy in order to access grisly parts of London a lady never would be able to enter alone. She also meets a man, James Easton, who will later become the love interest of the books.
In the second book of the series,The Body at the Tower, the Agency disguises Mary as a builder’s apprentice and sends her to work on a construction site to dig for information about the owner. Since Mary is disguised as a boy for most of the book, she has many more escapades and adventures than she does inA Spy in the House. James Easton reappears, and he and Mary begin to fall in love with each other.
In the third book,Traitor in the Tunnel, Mary is again disguised as a lady’s maid, this time at the royal palace. This book might possibly be the best of the three. The tension between James and Mary is high, as her assignment and his job quickly become focused on the same case. They decide to work on the case together. As Mary falls more in love with investigation (and with James), she must make a decision that will affect her future as an agent and as an independent woman.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Agency trilogy, both as mysteries and as historical fiction. The author’s research is impeccable, and I learned many things about Victorian England that I didn’t know before. Mary is not just a female character who breaks out of a confining society; she is a revolutionary who doubts herself, makes mistakes, and fails, but has the courage to make a place for herself in a world ruled by men. She is by far one of my favorite teen protagonists, due not only to her spunk, courage, strength and determination, but to the fact that she has weaknesses, failures and doubts. There are rumors that a fourth book is being released next year! I will be keeping my fingers crossed.
Emerson Cole went a bit crazy her freshman year and had a screaming match with what appeared to be no one in the school cafeteria (she was actually yelling at a ghost that only she could see, but that doesn’t help her case). That little episode landed her in a mental hospital, and from there she moved onto heavy meds and boarding school. Now there is no boarding school money, she’s off the meds (but don’t tell her brother, her legal guardian), and she must return to her hometown high school for senior year. Emerson has seen ghosts since she was about 13, right before her parents died in a tragic accident. Problem is, the ghosts look like real people and it’s almost impossible for her to tell them apart, which can lead to some uncomfortable situations. Then Emerson meets Michael, a representative her brother hired from an organization called the Hourglass that he thinks can help her with her visions. Michael considers the visions a gift and knows more about them than she does. He tells her that she doesn’t see ghosts necessarily, but images from the past that are superimposed on the present, and that it’s an ability only time travelers have.
I didn’t like the first 15 or so pages because I thought Emerson was cliché and snarky and nothing much was happening. I’m glad I stuck with it though, because it gets super interesting once Michael shows up. The story is paced well and the plot goes much deeper than I anticipated (A sequel, Timepiece, released just recently). I’m usually not a fan of paranormal romance books, and technically that’s what this book is, except it’s time travel (which I love when presented in a smart way) and the chemistry and relationship between Emerson and Michael is so well-developed. The story also features many worthy side characters: her brother and sister-in-law, her barista best friend, and a group of teens associated with the Hourglass, all with their own time-related ability. Hourglass is a fast, enjoyable read with characters that I care about and look forward to meeting in future books (pun totally intended)!
Heather's Book Review: Trapped by Michael Northrop
At the beginning of Michael Northrop’s Trapped, snow has begun to fall on Tattawa High School. Scotty and his pals, Pete and Jason, know a snow day is impending, and when the inevitable happens, they use the wait for their rides to work on Jason’s shop class labor of love, a go-kart. The three of them expect nothing more than a typical harmless snow day. What actually occurs is anything but. The roads leading into the school are rendered impassable within the hour, trapping not only them, but four other students and a teacher inside. And this is fine, if slightly scary. Until the power goes out. And the emergency generator goes with it. And then the cell towers. And then the structure of the building itself. Within the space of a few days, they’ve become encased in a school so dark and cold that it might as well be a morgue, and not all of them will make it out alive.
Clearly, none of the characters in this novel have had experiences with snow like those we in the South have. If they had, they would have instinctively known that the first sighting of one or two snowflakes means that you pack up for the day, stock up on three weeks worth of milk and bread, lock yourself in your house and play board games by candlelight until the weather lets up about a day later. Then again, if they had, Mr. Northrop would not have had much of a novel to write. Also, compared to people up North, where the story is set, Southerners are snow pansies, which is why the main characters in this story watch a foot of snow fall around their school and think nothing of it. It is also one of the reasons why I found this such a truly frightening story.
Northrop sets up an appropriately somber mood by page two of this disaster novel, letting readers know up front that not everyone’s going to survive this killer snow day. This reminder persists throughout the first chapters of the novel, which, admittedly, quickly grows annoying. In fact, there were several moments where my reader-brain wanted to shout “YES WE KNOW THAT CHARACTERS ARE GOING TO DIE CAN YOU JUST GO AHEAD AND START KILLING THEM ALREADY SO THAT WE CAN READ ABOUT IT PLEASE?” However, this sense of impending doom contributes heavily to the layers of suspense that bear over the characters, and as the story progresses, it only grows. As disaster stories go, this is a realistically rendered narrative. Despite having several chances to take a turn for the sensational—for example, by trapping the two hottest girls in Tattawa High with five teenage boys. You fill in the possible blanks.— the novel makes an effort to depict teens acting as they might act in a similarly disastrous situation. Cliques and social prejudices remain among them. The teens who thrived in the academic or athletic tiers of school hierarchy suddenly find themselves displaced by the previously invisible teens that thrive on survival challenges. Power struggles ensue because of that. These tensions are only heightened by the fact that the teens have no chance to fight them out, verbally or otherwise. By the middle of the novel, they’re stuck a setting where they physically can’t blow up at each other, in a building where a single angry shout can disturb tons of precariously supported snow drifts and bring them crushing down through the weaker points of their school’s structure. If they don’t keep their heads cool, they could be crushed by their own voices. This is what renders Trapped such a gripping novel. It is a novel in which the absence of mundane things—of easily accessed food, of heat to cook it with, of the ability to use a cell phone, of the ability to talk at all—becomes a significant factor in whether a character survives or not. You know what’s more terrifying than knowing you’re likely to die? Waiting for it to happen in a place where you formerly felt safe, but where you’re now frozen and starving and at the mercy of elements that usually don’t get a second thought. That harmless little snowball that you threw at your sister last winter? Now it’s back to kill you, with cousins.
The dialogue in the novel is also believably written, contributing to the credibility of the characters. However, the plot itself seems to lack this same credibility at certain points. Much of the setup of the plot seems to rely on convenient coincidence. How likely is it that a trio of high schoolers would enthusiastically opt to stay at school longer than required, given the free no-work pass that is a snow day? I was even the overachieving nerd daughter of a teacher and I never took up that offer. How likely is it, too, that a teacher, even a crotchety old rebel like the shop teacher in question, would grant students unsupervised after-school access to a room with loads of fun, dangerous power tools in it? Lots of odd little details had to pass for the story in this novel to even happen. The end comes abruptly, too, and though readers are given enough details to figure out what likely happened after the story’s end, it is still unsatisfying that there’s no concrete resolution. It feels like watching the apocalyptic comet smash into Planet Earth without being shown how humanity pulls together and rises from the rubble. For all I know, all the other characters in this novel were never rescued, but rather ran out of food and ate each other before the blizzard ended, which is the sort of conclusion that I automatically jump to when I read a disaster book/watch a disaster movie that features no equivalent of Morgan Freeman trying to convince the viewer on the other side of the screen that humans really are capable of pulling together to do awesomely inspiring things in the face of environmental doom. I don’t believe these things about people unless someone like Morgan Freeman says them. In short, Mr. Northrop, your novel needed some Morgan Freeman in it. Only then would its ending not have been flawed.
Despite its bumps and incomplete end, though, Trapped is a novel worth reading, especially if you’re looking for something to break up your paranormal romance/dystopia/[ insert other YA trend here ] sprees. It’s a fairly quick read, too, despite its seeming length. So the next time you have some unexpected free time, give it a try. Maybe on your next snow day.
Teen Summer Reading starts next Thursday, so get ready to start reading!
Visit any SCPL location to sign up and get your first game card, then earn points by reading for an hour or attending teen events. Complete your first card by earning 10 points and receive a 2012 Teen Summer Reading t-shirt.
Game cards are entered in weekly drawings for awesome prizes and grand prize drawings for your choice of an iPad or an iPod Touch with Beats by Dr. Dre Headphones!
You can also review the books you read for extra entries in the weekly drawings; pick up a review form or submit your review online by clicking the Teen Summer Reading logo on our website. This year’s weekly prizes include Carowinds tickets, gift cards to stores like GameStop and Barnes & Noble, and more, so read and review as much as you can for more chances to win!
Mash together all of the most well-known Grimm’s fairy tales, sprinkle liberally with angsty, magical teen characters, bake for one week in a steamy, modern-day seaside resort town, and you have the recipe for Kill Me Softly. Shortly before her sixteenth birthday, orphaned Mira runs away from her overprotective guardian godmothers and travels to her birthplace, Beau Rivage, to seek answers regarding her parents’ tragic deaths. She meets a cast of other teenagers who seem more than a little strange, and eventually discovers that they are cursed by evil fairies and fated to re-live the dark stories told in classic folk tales including Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, and Bluebeard. In a series of suspenseful plot twists, Mira encounters more bizarre and frightening secrets about the town’s cursed inhabitants as she attempts to piece together the fragments of her own potentially ill-fated destiny.
Be warned, these are not your Disney-variety characters, and like the original stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, this book abounds with violence, villains and some horror. If you are looking for clean contemporary re-tellings of fairy tales, steer clear of this one and try something by Robin McKinley or Jane Yolen instead.
Heather's Book Review: Romeo and Juliet: The War by Stan Lee, Terry Dougas, Max Work, and Skan Srisuwan
Comic adaptations of Shakespeare are hardly new, but in my experience, rarely are they well-done enough to be appreciated outside of a “Here, read this comic because you’re having trouble with the Shakespearean language in the play” context. Of the several that I’ve attempted, only a few have been books that I’ve reread for their entertainment value. Most of the others I haven’t been able to finish, and all of those left me with exasperated groans in my throat, just waiting to be unleashed when I came upon the next Shakespeare comic.
In fact, that is exactly what happened when I came upon this comic. When I first saw a thumbnail of Romeo and Juliet: The War, my reaction was *EXAGGERATED SIGH-GRUMBLE*, “Does the world really need another futuristic Romeo and Juliet ripoff?” The fact that it was Romeo and Juliet made it worse. Generally I hate stories that feature protagonists being both in love and stupid at the same time, which is what Romeo and Juliet is, at its heart. Oh, the original has all that iambic pentametered loveliness, too, but I can get that inevery other Shakespearean work, many of which are far more interesting than this one.
Key to my exasperation with this book was the fact that I was looking at a thumbnail that was the size of, well, a thumbnail.
Then, one day, I came upon the actual cover in person, which sent me into fits of fangirlish glee:
This version of Shakespeare’s classic sets the familiar story in the far future, making both families consist of cybernetically- or genetically- enhanced supersoldiers, and then having them duke it out in a wondrous spread of futuristic glowing lights and shiny metal that makes the book look like a printed cousin of the Mass Effect games (which is not a bad thing because even the loading screens are fun to look at in Mass Effect.)
Romeo and Juliet: The War is not simply a slapdash adaptation of a classic made for SparkNotes purposes, either. (Not to hate on SparkNotes, by the way. The SparkNotes graphic novel version of Hamlet is one of my favorite Shakespeare-inspired comics.) It’s an impressively crafted work, and despite all the crazy technological changes, the basic story is still intact. I wouldn’t recommend reading in lieu of the original if you’re reading it for class, as you’ll end up answering questions like “Why were the Montagues and Capulets enemies?” with “Because they were such awesomely superpowered soldiers that they defeated everyone else in the world, leaving only themselves to fight!” (which, FYI, is not the Shakespearean reason). However, as a complement to the original text, it’s pretty good. Some changes are made to certain minor points in the plot, but—dare I say it?—these changes actually improve upon Shakespeare’s story, or at the very least make it more dramatic reading.
Basic accuracy is the least of this book’s good points, though. All of the other good points rest in its art. The art in this comic is not merely pleasant to look at. Everything about it is expertly accomplished, from the dynamic panel layout, to the characterful color design, to the wondrous and colossal scale of it all. The book makes frequent use of detailed full-page and multi-page spreads, and more than once I found myself stopping in the middle of reading simply to gawp at what was on the page before me. This is a graphic novel that comes very close to reaching the height of Capital A Art.
The only truly disappointing part of the book, for me, was the lack of an author or artist’s note in the back, as I was genuinely curious to know what happened to make this unexpected bit of awesomeness come about. The only extras included are some pieces of concept art, which are cool, but not as interesting as a look into the writer’s and artist’s minds would have been. I also had a problem with Romeo’s hair, which being the shaggy mop that seems to appear on every stylish teen boy’s head these days is going to look dated as soon as we’re out of the 2010s. But that’s just me being picky because there’s nothing else to complain about.
Lisa's Book Review: The Accidental Genius of Weasel High by Rick Detorie
After ingesting so much young adult supernatural romance and dystopian fiction, I wanted to snack on something light and humorous, so I thought I’d give this story a try. I’m glad I did, it made me laugh out loud. Part blog/journal and part comic book, the story is set up as an assignment for fourteen-year-old Larkin’s freshman English class. Larkin is a self-proclaimed “accidental genius,” and in his words, this means “somebody who possesses an awesome talent that happens to be totally useless.” In Larkin’s case, his useless talent is the ability to quote lines from every movie he’s ever seen. He is joined in this amusing pastime by Brooke, his best friend since third grade. However, Larkin is undergoing a bit of a crisis because Brooke has started dating his nemesis Dalton, the school bully. Larkin is also frustrated by his lack of height, his lack of a girlfriend, and his lack of funds to buy a camcorder in order to embark on an illustrious career as a movie director.
Obviously, Rick Detorie is in touch with his inner teen, and his characters are hilarious, especially Larkin’s angst-ridden older sister, his befuddled French teacher, and his eccentric pal Freddie who likes to wear bedroom slippers everywhere he goes. I’d recommend this book for tweens and younger teens, but also for anyone who loves classic movies and is in need of some healthy chuckles!
Bronwyn's Book Review: The Philosophy Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained by DK Publishing
I’m the type of person who can enjoy a good nonfiction read just as well as a novel with an actual storyline. So, when I saw The Philosophy Book, I figured it would be pretty interesting. The cover and the brightly designed and colorful pages reminded me of an infographic (An infographic is a visual representation of data). Not being a huge fan of philosophy, but interested to know more about the subject, I decided to give it a try. As is mentioned in the introduction, “Philosophy…is what everyone does when they’re not busy dealing with their everyday business and get a chance simply to wonder what life and the universe are all about.” When people think of philosophy, they usually think of old, dead guys wearing togas, like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. However, there are more philosophers living today than in any other point in time. The book covers 2000 years’ worth of philosophers and their theories. The theories are laid out on the page in such a way that makes them super easy to understand. The authors use bubbles and flow charts to walk the reader through the different theories.
Although each of the theories and philosopher bios were interesting, I started to feel overwhelmed after a few pages into the book. I felt like I was in school again! Let’s face it; philosophy is a complicated thing. However, if you want/need to learn about a specific subject, this book explains philosophical theories in an easy way to understand. My favorite philosophical theory covered in the book is William James’ “act as if what you do makes a difference.” In other words, if you don’t try, you will never succeed.
The Michael A. Printz award winners were announced last week! This awardrecognizes books that exemplify literary excellence in young adult literature. Each year, there is one winner and up to four honor books. This year’s winner is:
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
Witty, sardonic Cullen Witter agonizes over the disappearance of his beloved brother, Gabriel, while everyone else in his stiflingly dull Arkansas town thrills to the apparent return of a long-extinct woodpecker. Kidnapping, bromance, arcane religious texts, and ornithology collide in this ground-breaking coming-of-age tale.
The four Printz honor books this year are:
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
In this beautiful piece of bookmaking, heartbroken movie obsessive Min Green dumps a box of relationship ephemera on ex-love Ed Slaterton’s porch, each item attached to a raging, loving, insecure and regretful letter explaining how each memento contributed to their breakup.
The Returning by Christine Hinwood
A large cast of characters from two fictional kingdoms recover from a drawn-out, brutal war in a portrait both sweeping and specific as it explores the ramifications of the conflict on Cam, the only one who lives to return to his village.
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
Spurred by the mysterious death of a schoolmate, Charlie confronts racism and his fears as he learns about family, friendship and love in the oppressive heat of small-town 1960s Australia. Silvey weaves themes of freedom and loyalty with moments of humor in this wrenching novel.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
A bloody, intoxicating horse race on the Island of Thisby is the backdrop for this atmospheric novel. The heart-pounding story pits two teens against death – to win is to survive.
We’re entering our second month of Teen Winter Reading, where you can win great teen books, earbuds, or maybe even a Kindle Fire! Haven’t gotten started yet? Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of time. All you have to do to enter is read and review a book—simple enough, right? Review forms are available at all SCPL locations, or you can submit your entry online. We’ll draw weekly winners who will receive earbuds and a book, and after Teen Winter Reading ends on February 29th, one lucky teen will win a Kindle Fire. You’ve got a little under two months to enter as many reviews as you can, so keep reading!
I initially picked up this book because the cover led me to believe it was a dystopia of some sort, but after reading the blurb, I figured I’d give it a try anyway. It’s difficult to discuss the plot without some major spoilers due to the book’s twists and turns, but the basic idea is this—Abby wakes up by a burning building with no idea of who she is or where she came from, lying next to a boy named Sam who promises to keep her safe. At first, it seems as though her life with Sam in a “cave palace” is a romantic dreamworld, and Abby is content to let him provide for her and tell her who she is. However, as Sam’s actions become sketchy and Abby starts to remember snippets of her former life, Abby realizes that she needs to find out more about her past and starts to understand that the world she sees may not be what it seems. More and more cracks appear in Sam’s story as heinous things happen to Abby, eventually culminating in a test of Abby’s will to survive. This book was intense,even though it was pretty slow-moving at times, but I found myself wanting to keep reading to see how it would all play out. If you’re a careful reader, many aspects of the plot are a little predictable, but that doesn’t diminish Heltzel’s capacity to make Abby’s realization of her circumstances compelling and heartbreaking. The book’s final act seemed a bit rushed to me, and the ending leaves things pretty open, but this psychological thriller is definitely worth a read if you can handle some heavy topics.
Susan's Book Review: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Seventeen-year-old Jill is still reeling from the loss of her father a year ago (who was, it’s no secret, her favorite parent) when her mother, Robin, drops a bomb. They’d always talked about fostering or adopting other children, and after losing her husband and learning a harsh lesson in mortality, Robin decides to go ahead with their dream and adopt a baby. Except the baby is from a pregnant teenager named Mandy who Robin met on the internet. Not only that, but she’s going to let her stay at their house until she gives birth. This is one change too many for Jill and she can’t bring herself to be nice to Mandy when she arrives.
Jill thinks her mom’s gone crazy and is being too trusting of a total stranger, and she’s right—Mandy isn’t telling the complete truth. I enjoyed the character of Robin because I don’t see many realistic portrayals of parents in teen books and I love how kind she is to everyone, but especially Mandy. The story is an interesting study of grief. Jill and Robin handle it in totally different ways, with Jill taking her anger out on the world, and Robin looking for ways to help.
How to Save a Life is told in dual perspectives, one chapter by Mandy and one chapter by Jill. Jill’s chapters show her struggling to be the girl she used to be and involve a subplot with her longtime boyfriend and a new accidental crush. Mandy’s chapters show us the life she’s escaping, so we understand why she’s not being completely honest. Mandy somehow comes across as innocent and experienced at the same time, thinking Robin is too good to be true and waiting for things to fall apart like they always do.
I loved Sara Zarr’s first book, Story of a Girl, so much that I read everything she publishes. That book is still my favorite of hers, but I really enjoyed How to Save a Life. It has an interesting, unconventional plot, realistic characters and a few surprises. I thought it would end in one of two ways, but instead this perfect, yet unexpected third way presents itself and I was happy for everyone as I turned the last page.
Lisa's Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Ransom Riggs spins a suspenseful plot that begins with a violent murder, a possible monster sighting, and a smattering of bizarre images. Ever since Jacob was a little boy, he was enthralled by his grandfather’s stories about his experiences in Wales as a teenage refugee fleeing the Nazis during World War II. Now sixteen, Jacob has serious doubts about the authenticity of his grandfather’s tales. This eerie mystery is punctuated with dozens of antique photographs of the “peculiar” friends described by Jacob’s grandfather. Is it possible that their special powers might really exist: invisibility, levitation, telepathy, super strength...? Jacob heads for the isolated island in Wales to explore the site of Miss Peregrine’s Home, looking for clues to his grandfather’s secrets. What begins as Jacob’s attempt to sort out his grandfather’s past quickly escalates into an adventure involving time travel, romance, and a fight for survival against dark, bloodthirsty creatures.
In addition to being a talented writer, Ransom Riggs is also a filmmaker and a photography collector. The photos used in the book are actual vintage prints, and this serves to amplify the overall creepiness of the reading experience. There are a few spots in the book where you may hesitate to turn the page for fear of the photo awaiting you there.
I’ve been pretty interested in a lot of the dystopian/post-apocalyptic literature that’s been coming out in the last few years, but had started to get jaded since everything seemed more and more alike. Enter Ashes, the first book in a new trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick, which rekindled my love for all things dark & dismal. Ashes is the story of Alex, a girl with a brain tumor and dead parents, who is backpacking near Lake Superior and considering her future (or lack thereof) when an electromagnetic pulse hits. All electronics are knocked out, many people are killed instantly, and some other people have become…not quite people anymore. Alex eventually finds herself with some other survivors—Tom, a soldier, and Ellie, a young girl—and they struggle against the elements, the wilderness, and other survivors. Alex is also disturbed to notice that she too seems to be changing, and has to deal with that while figuring out how to survive in a devastated world with winter just around the corner. As the plot progresses and Alex travels to new places, the story moves from post-apocalyptic to super-creepy dystopian, culminating in some horrifying situations and tough decisions. The plot, the characters, and the excellent writing reminded me of other great books in this genre, like The Knife of Never Letting Go and Blood Red Road. I don’t remember the last time I read a book that had me as hooked as this one did. I was reading during all my free time and getting irritated by little things like eating or sleeping, which always seemed to get in the way. This first book ends with a crazy-intense cliffhanger, so don’t expect things to be wrapped up neatly, but when the second book comes out, I’ll be one of the first in line to read it!
Bronwyn's Book Review: Something Rotten by Alan Gratz
Something Rotten is the story of a teenage boy who avenges the death of his father, who was murdered by his uncle. Sound familiar? Maybe not? In this case, it doesn’t matter, because although Something Rotten is based on one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, Hamlet, the plot is so modernized and the characters so detailed that the story is excellent even without the Shakespearean allusions.
The story takes place in Denmark, Tennessee, where a paper factory is polluting the Copenhagen River. Horatio (the main character) and Hamilton (the character based on Hamlet) discover that Hamilton’s father has been poisoned. However, everyone else in town believes Rex died of natural causes. With the help of their friend Olivia, Horatio and Hamilton set out to prove that a murder has been committed.
If you are familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, you will pick up on some cool and creative plot parallels. If you aren’t familiar with the play, you will still enjoy Horatio and Hamilton’s adventures. Alan Gratz has done an excellent job weaving a classic play into a modern story that people of the 21st century can relate to.
Heather's Book Review: This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel
I’m not usually a fan of modern prequels/sequels/re-imaginings of classic books. They often to seem to lack the certain something that made the classic so memorable and, at best, leave me wishing that I’d just reread the original instead of spending time on the redux. This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel, however, is not one such redux. It’s one of the best classic-inspired novels I’ve ever read, and it might even be one of my favorite books EVER. This Dark Endeavor is a prequel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and tells the story of young Victor Frankenstein before he became the mad monster-creating scientist that we all know and love. In the story, Victor lives happily with his parents, twin brother, Konrad, and cousin/adopted sister Elizabeth—until his brother falls deathly ill. Even the best doctors cannot figure out what’s wrong with him, and though Victor has been taught to believe in the power of modern science, he can’t help but wonder if there’s any other way to help Konrad. An alchemic way. After all, there is a secret library hidden in his house, and one of its books contains a recipe for the Elixir of Life…
Not-Really-a-Spoiler: The famous monster never appears here. One would think that Frankenstein without the monster isn’t Frankenstein at all, but that’s not entirely true. Oppel captures the same creepiness, the same sense of urgency, and the same sense of impending madness (or at least maddening passion) that permeated Shelley’s original novel—for readers who like Victorian fiction, anyway. For those who don’t, this book shows you what you’re supposed to feel when you read Frankenstein. This is a novel that I couldn’t read at night. Even when I read it during the day, parts of it still terrified me. That said, this book has some genuinely cringe-worthy moments. The entire second half of the novel is an intense piece of reading, and readers who aren’t looking for something totally engrossing would best shy away from it. (Pun totally intended. Be warned. There really is some gross stuff in the last part of the book.) Readers who love to be startled out of their wits, however, cannot miss this book.
Tara's Book Review: Dust and Decay by Jonathan Maberry
The first book in the Benny Imura series was brilliant, so when I was able to get my hands on a galley copy of Dust & Decay, the second novel, I couldn’t wait to start it. I wasn’t disappointed, either. The book picks up shortly after the story left off in Rot & Ruin, and Tom Imura is training his little brother Benny (along with Benny’s friends) how to fight zombies and survive in the Rot & Ruin so they could begin a journey east. Lilah (formerly known as “The Lost Girl”) lives with the friends while still keeping her distance, and Benny & Nix have grown even closer. As the friends prepare to begin their trip, disaster once again strikes in the town of Morningside, and they must leave ahead of schedule. However, anything goes in the Ruin, so the group quickly finds that things aren’t what they expected. A mysterious, creepy man named Preacher Jack is walking around the woods spouting some serious crazy talk, and Tom discovers that there’s suddenly a price on his head and every outlaw is looking for him. When the group gets split up, it’s every man (or boy, or girl) for himself (or herself), and they struggle to find their loved ones while escaping bounty hunters who want to take them to the newly-reconstructed Gameland, where children are forced to fight zombies in death pits. I was so happy to see that this book was as good as (or possibly better than) its predecessor. While it’s a fun, thrilling zombie romp, it also makes you think about the important things in life like love, loyalty, friendship, and honor. There are some really fantastic fight scenes, some gorgeous language, and devastating deaths, so it’s definitely worth checking out after you’ve read Rot & Ruin!
Teen Read Week encourages teens to read for the fun of it, so we celebrate it for the entire month of October! Here’s how:
Candy Counting Contest: Check out the candy jar at your local library branch and guess how many pieces of candy are in it. The teen with the closest guess will win ALL THE CANDY!
Design a Bookmark Contest:The winning entry in our seventh annual Design a Bookmark contest will be professionally printed and distributed at all SCPL locations as well as the winner’s school library. Your design may be full color but must be 1.5” x 7” and include the text of the 2011 Teen Read Week theme “Picture It.” Digital entries must be 300 dpi and saved as a .jpg, .pdf, .tiff, or .eps.! Entries must be accompanied by the artist’s name, address, phone #, age and grade in school and turned in to any Spartanburg County Public Library location or emailed as an attachment to