Friday, August 31, 2012
Lush, by Natasha Friend
A straightforward and well-written story about being thirteen and dealing with a family that is falling apart. Nothing extraordinary, but sometimes that really isn't necessary to have a good story. Sam is an appealing heroine. She's articulate and stands up for herself well. The book itself is a brisk read.
Posted by Paul at 4:16 PM No comments:
Friday, August 24, 2012
Darkbeast, by Morgan Keyes
Everyone has a darkbeast. For most children, being rid of their darkbeast is something that they look forward to it. But for Keara, too much is tied up in Caw -- the friend who has kept her company when no humans quite measured up. And, despite the promise of becoming a young woman, she fears the horrible moment when she must end Caw's life.
I loved this book for many reasons. In addition to the fact that it was well-written, with good pacing and interesting, well fleshed-out characters, I loved the concept. Taken literally, the idea of twelve year-old children murdering their pets to achieve adulthood is repulsive, but that misses the point. Rather, it is a wonderful analogy: the darkbeats is a device through which children can relieve themselves of guilt and learn from their mistakes. To grow up, they must throw it off so that they can become responsible for themselves. The feelings that Keara has towards Caw will feel very familiar and immediate to the book's intended middle school readers.
Then there is Keyes's absolutely amazing detail. Keara's world, while alien and different, is exquisitely drawn out. With details ranging from the pantheon of deities to little things (like the villages collecting ashes to make soap and various dietary miscellanea), Keyes put a lot of thought into the setting and shares much of this world with the reader. So, the story works not just as a fable with highly relevant observations about the pain of growing up (and the difficulties that people who buck convention face), but also as a thrilling tour of a complete and logically consistent world that is so different (and in surprising ways, very similar) to our own.
In sum, a truly astounding and beautifully crafted fantasy book for middle readers. The book comes out on August 28th - look for it!
Posted by Paul at 11:27 AM No comments:
Saturday, August 18, 2012
The Highest Tide, by Jim Lynch
With the unusual sea life intended as an extended metaphor, Lynch's adult book about a boy coming of age in the South Sound is effective and convincing. It combines a little magic with some hard cold rational explanations and mixing Miles's talents for finding rare life forms with his generous and observant behavior towards the adults around him. The narrator (Miles-as-a-grown-up) is more worldly and articulate than Miles would ever have been, but Lynch captures enough of Miles's mannerisms to give the character some authenticity.
I'm not a big fan of adult books about adolescence. They tend to be too glib and backhanded in their treatment of childhood transgressions. However, Lynch's writing is strong and the story self-contained and it makes an enjoyable read, even if it is not really YA.
Posted by Paul at 2:08 PM No comments:
Friday, August 10, 2012
The House of Tomorrow, by Peter Bognanni
A well-written and well-paced story about friendship, finding yourself, and coming to terms with your world (with a bit of getting along with the adults and dealing with girls thrown in). I didn't warm to the boys and they didn't evolve enough to change that initial alienation I felt, but the story didn't drag and it will appeal to folks looking for a good book about male bonding. The references to Fuller were interesting and even the take on punk music (which is more about the boys' naive perspectives than any serious observation on the music) is worthwhile.
Posted by Paul at 7:07 PM No comments:
Hush, by Eishes Chayil
I approached this book with some reluctance and delayed reading it for several years. I didn't expect an ultra-conservative religious community to be an appealing subject. And I didn't imagine that I would enjoy the inevitable power struggle between stubborn patriarchs and a lone subjugated young woman that I expected the novel to deliver. So, I was pleasantly surprised by what I read.
Wow! The book and its story is incredibly moving (it was a real struggle not to cry in public as I finished it on my flight home last night!). It succeeds because Chayil has avoided the cheap shots and opted instead to produce a book about understanding and healing. First of all, she obviously loves her community. It isn't just the rich cultural details that she immerses us in. It's the nuanced view of that community that she paints. Avoiding stereotypes, the villains are not mean old grey men, but normal people driven by love and fear. And in this way, the story becomes universal and transcends its milieu. Chayil's point is that evil is not a simple thing where individual people can be called out. Rather, it is the result of customs and habits that bind people to the point that they don't know how to do the right thing. Gittel's bravery in standing out from her community (and standing up for the weak) is stunning, but Chayil's challenge to the reader resonates longer.
Posted by Paul at 10:22 AM No comments:
Larry and the Meaning of Life, by Janet Tashjian
Very much in the spirit of the other books, but at the same time different. The scope is smaller and while elements of the plot are just as contrived, having a smaller scale makes them seem somehow more realistic (or at least plausible). Larry still seems a bit goody-goody but the preaching is curtailed (the novel's primary cause seems to be eradicating landmines this time, but it's not pursued heavily). I suppose people could criticize this book for not being as agenda-laden, but I appreciated being cut a break.
Posted by Paul at 10:01 AM No comments:
Friday, August 03, 2012
Hero, by Perry Moore
But that isn't the only thing Thom is hiding. Thom's got superpowers. And Thom's got a real chance of joining the A-ist crime fighters of the League in their epic battles: Warrior Woman, the Spectrum, Golden Boy, and that amazing hunk Uberman (whom Thom's had a crush on for years). But Dad can't ever find out about Thom's dream -- Dad was once a superhero himself and was cast out in disgrace. Superheros aren't welcome in their home.
What we get is an amazing mash of comic book worship, teen gay angst, and coming to terms. After all, nothing says homoerotica better than comic book superheros, does it? So, what Moore does is play on that to create a story that is both well-written pulp and serious teen gay novel -- a world where a young man who is both a potential superhero and gay has to prove he is not a freak. It's X-Men meets Edge of Seventeen. While that probably gives the novel a split personality, it's truly amazing how well it actually fits together. The last 100 pages or so of blood and guts action didn't do much for me, but they're integral to the nature of the piece. What really worked for me was the idea that coming out as a superhero or as a gay man could be equally heroic. And I think it worked for Moore as well. Kudos for something unique in LGBT lit!
Posted by Paul at 3:55 PM No comments:
Frozen Rodeo, by Catherine Clark
It's all a bit random and basically amounts to "Fleming's sucky summer." That really would not have drawn me in, but the blurb promised that all the craziness would get tied up in the end in a really amazing way. It sort of does, but I didn't find the ending worth the slog. Anecdotes can be fun, but without an overarching story, there really isn't a point to this book. The most promising plot line (Fleming's problems with getting her parents to accept that she is growing up) gets resolved in the laziest fashion possible: after amazing injustices she finally explodes at them, they realize their errors, and become amazingly considerate (does that ever happen in real life?!).
[Note: This book is apparently also published under the title of Better Latte Than Never (not sure if this is a better title or not).]
Posted by Paul at 1:19 PM No comments:
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