San Diego State University
Stellaluna gets scolded
Children's Literature Program
homepageabout usContact us!News related to the Children's Literature ProgramGraduate ProgramFacultyCourses Offered  in Children's LiteratureGivingBook reviews by faculty and students in the Children's Literature ProgramLinks  
Images from Janell Cannon's
Stellaluna. Reprinted with
permission from Harcourt Publishers.
 
Reviews

Young Adult (YA) - Fiction

REVIEWERS: Alida Allison, Kristina Blake, Aria Fani, SarahEllen Hickle, Joyce Ho, Kimberly Kennelly, Naomi Leslie, Fran Merlie, Emily Moore, Ellen Nef, Taylor Nelligan, Sean Printz, Marie Soriano, John Whitt

* denotes San Diego writer and/or illustrator
** Age levels, when provided by the publishers, are included in the bibliographical information. Otherwise, category placements are our best approximations.

  • Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. Illus. Ellen Forney. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. ISBN 978-0-316-01368-0. $16.99 U.S./ $21.50 CAN. Ages 14 and up. www.lb-teens.com
    Winner of the National Book Award
  • Anaya, Rudolfo. Bless Me, Ultima. Berkeley: Warner Books, 1994. ISBN 0-446-60025-3. $ 5.50. 262 pages. Age: Young Adult
  • Avasthi, Swati. Split. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. ISBN 978-0-375-86340-0. $16.99.
  • Bell, Hilari. The Last Knight. (A Knight and Rogue Novel.) Eos, 2007. ISBN 0060825030. $16.99
  • Berk, Josh. The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. ISBN 0375856994. $16.99. Ages 13 and up.
  • Canales, Viola. The Tequila Worm. New York: WendyLamb, 2005. ISBN 0-385-74674-1. U.S. $15.95/ $22.95 CAN. Ages 12 and up.
    Winner of the Pura Belpre Award
  • Carmody, Isobelle. Alyzon Whitestarr. New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN 978-0-375-83938-2. U.S. $17.99/ $20.99 CAN. Hardback. Ages 13-18.
  • Carmody, Isobelle. The Farseekers, The Obernewtyn Chronicles, Book 2. New York: Random House, 1990. ISBN 978-0-375-85768-3. U.S. $6.99/ $7.99 CAN. Ages 13-18.
  • Carmody, Isobelle. Obernewtyn, Book One: the Obernewtyn Chronicles. New York: Random House, 1987. ISBN 978-0-375-85767-6. U.S. $6.99/ $7.99 CAN. Ages 12-18.
  • Cornish, D.M. Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling. New York: Penguin, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-14-240913-8. Ages 9-12
  • de la Pena, Matt. We Were Here. New York: Delacorte, 2009. $17.99. ISBN 0-385-73667-1. 368 pp.
  • Dokey, Cameron. Golden. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. ISBN 978-1-4169-3926-9. Ages 9-12.
  • Eddings, David. The Belgariad: Pawn of Prophecy. New York: Corgi, 1982, republished 2006. ISBN 978-0-552-55476-3. $6.99. Ages 11+. 346 pp.
  • Easton, Kelly. White Magic. New York: Wendy Lamb, 2007. ISBN 978-0-375-83769-2. U.S. $15.99/ $21.00 CAN. Ages 13 and up.
  • Ellis, Deborah. Lunch with Lenin. Canada: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008. ISBN 978-1-55455-105-7. (Ages 13-16).
  • Fantaskey, Beth. Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-15-206384-9. $17.00. Ages 12-16.
  • Ferraro, Tina. The ABC’s of Kissing Boys. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-385-73582-7. US $8.99/$9.99 CAN. Ages 12-15.
  • Friesner, Esther. Nobody’s Princess. New York: Random House, 2007. ISBN 978-0-375-87528-1. U.S. $16.99/ $22.99 CAN. Ages 12 and up.
  • Friesner, Esther. Nobody’s Prize. New York: Random House, 2008. ISBN 978-0-375-87531-1. U.S. $16.99/ $21.99 CAN. Ages 12 and up.
  • Gaiman, Neil and Michael Reaves. Interworld. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2007. ISBN 978-0-06-123896-3. $ 16.99. 237 pages. Age: Young Adults & Up.
  • Grandits, John. Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems. New York: Clarion, 2007. ISBN 978-0-618-56860-4. $15.00 U.S./ $19.95 CAN. Ages 14-18.
  • Harmel, Kristin. After. New York: Delacorte Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-385-73476-9. $16.99.
  • Helgerson, Joseph. Horns & Wrinkles. Illus. Nicoletta Ceccoli. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. ISBN 978-0618-61679-4. U.S. $16.00.
    www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com
  • Holder, Nancy. The Rose Bride: A Retelling of “The White Bride and the Black Bride.” Once upon a Time series. New York: Simon Pulse, 2007. ISBN-10: 1-4169-3535-5 $5.99 249 pp.
  • Jennings, Richard W. Ghost Town. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2009. ISBN 0547194714. $16. Ages 13 and up.
  • Keany, Brian. The Hollow People (The Promises of Dr. Sigmundus Book I). Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2007. ISBN 0375843329. $16.99
  • Le Guin, Ursula K. Voices. Orlando: Harcourt, 2006. ISBN 9-78-0-152-05678-0. $17.00. Ages 12 and up. 341pp.
  • LeGuin, Ursula K. Voices. New York: Harcourt, 2006. ISBN 0152056785. $17.00 352 pp.
  • Lowenstein, Sallie. In the Company of Whispers. Kensington, MD: Lion Stone Books, 2008. ISBN 0-9658486-7-1. $22. 380 pp.
  • Lurie, April. The Less-Dead. New York: Delacorte Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-385-73675-6. $16.99.
  • Madigan, L. K. Flash Burnout. New York: Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company, 2009. ISBN 978-0-547-19489-9. $16.00.
  • Matthews, L.S. The Outcasts. New York: Delacorte, 2007. ISBN 0385733674. $15.99.
  • Meltzer, Milton. Tough Times. New York: Clarion Books, 2007. ISBN 978-0-618-87445-3. $16.00 US/$21.95 CAN. Ages 12 and up.
  • Myers, Walter Dean. Fallen Angels. Anv. Ed. New York: Scholastic Paperbacks, 2008. ISBN: 978-0545055765. $6.99 U.S. Ages 12+.
  • Myers, Walter Dean. Shooter. New York: HarperTempest, 2004. ISBN 0-06-029519-8. $15.99US/$23.99 CAN. Ages 12 and up.
  • Myers, Walter Dean. Sunrise Over Fallujah. New York: Scholastic Press, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-439-9164-0. $17.99 US/$19.99 CAN. Ages 12-15.
  • Napoli, Donna Jo. Hush: An Irish Princess’ Tale. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Adults, 2007. ISBN 0-689-86176-1. $16.99. 309pp.
  • Pierce, Tamora. Beka Cooper: Terrier. New York: Random House, 2006. ISBN 978-0-375-81468-6. $18.95. Ages 14 and up. 563 pp.
  • Pierce, Tamora. Melting Stones. New York: Scholastic, 2008. ISBN 978-0-545-05264-1. $17.99 U.S./ $19.99 CAN. Hardback. Ages 14-18.
  • Pratchett, Terry. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2001. ISBN 978-0-06-001235-9. $6.99 U.S.
    ALA Best Book for Young Adults; ALA Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults; Book Sense Pick; Carnegie Medal; New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age; VOYA Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror.
  • Pullman, Philip. The Ruby in the Smoke: A Sally Lockhart Mystery. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985. ISBN 978-0-375-84516-1. $7.99. Ages 13 and up.
  • Pullman, Philip. The Shadow in the North: A Sally Lockhart Mystery. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986. ISBN 978-0-375-84515-4. $7.99. Ages 13 and up.
  • Satrapi, Marjane. Chicken With Plums. New York: Pantheon Books, 2006. 0-375-42415-6. $ 16.95. 84 pages. Age: Young Adults.
  • Satrapi, Marjan. Embroideries. New York: Pantheon Books, 2005. ISBN 0-375-71467-7. $ 10.95. 140 pages. Age: Young Adults and up.
  • Schumacher, Julie. Black Box. New York: Delacorte Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-385-73542-1. $15.99 US/$18.99 CAN. Ages 12 and up.
  • Scott, Michael. The Alchemyst (Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.) New York: Delacorte , 2007. ISBN-13 978-0385733571. $16.99
  • Selzer, Adam. I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It. New York: Delacorte Press, 2010. ISBN 0-385-73503-2 $7.99. Ages 12 and up.
  • Ursu, Anne. The Cronus Chronicles, Book One: The Shadow Thieves. New York: Atheneum, 2006. ISBN 1-4169-0587-1. $16.95 U.S./ $23.50 CAN. Ages 8-12.
  • Vidal, Clara. Like a Thorn. Y. Maudet, trans. New York: Delacorte Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-385-73564-3. US $14.99. Ages 14 and up.
  • Ward, Rachel. Num8ers. New York: Scholastic, 2010. ISBN 978-0-545-14299-1. Ages: 13 and up.
  • Yang, Gene. American Born Chinese. Illus. Lark Pien. New York: Roaring Book Press-First Second Books, 2006. ISBN: 1-59643-152-0. $14.95. 240 pages. Young Adults. 2007 Michael L. Printz Award Winner. National Book Awards Finalist.
  • Zusak, Markus. I Am the Messenger. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2006. ISBN-10: 0375836675. Ages 12 and up. (Originally published as Messenger in Australia, 2002.)

Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. Illus. Ellen Forney. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007. ISBN 978-0-316-01368-0. $16.99 U.S./ $21.50 CAN. Ages 14 and up. www.lb-teens.com Winner of the National Book Award

Junior is a bright, eager to learn (you could say nerdy) fourteen-year-old Spokane Indian living on the Spokane Indian reservation with his mom, dad and older sister. The problem is the reservation, or rez, doesn’t offer much in the way of education or opportunities to rise economically. Junior’s family is poor as hell and the high school on the rez isn’t much better. When Junior realizes that his geometry textbook is the exact same one his mother used when she was in school, he also realizes that going to school on the rez won’t get him anywhere, so he decides to go to the all-White school in the next town. Eventually the White kids come to respect and like him, but sadly, the most hatred comes from the other Indians on the rez who think he’s a traitor for going to school somewhere else—somewhere predominantly White. Will Junior’s first year out of the rez be his last?

Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is a groundbreaking novel. Books like Louise Erdich’s The Birchbark House and Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins are important in bringing to light the rich Native American history and the way Europeans oppressed if not slaughtered Native Americans. At the same time, we are in dire need of novels about Native American kids in the present. Sherman Alexie and Louise Erdich are already prolific writers, but most of their books about Indians today are in the adult section of bookstores and libraries. Alexie’s novel is a start to filling this gap in children’s and young adult literature. The truth is that when we read, we learn, too, about history and about cultures, and so far, most kids’ books would lead people to believe Native Americans are only of the far-flung past. There are people in this world, children and adults, who think Indians still live in teepees. The Absolutely True Diary gives Indian kids a chance to see a reflection of themselves and informs non-Indian readers about the modern Native American experience, at least on reservations.

Like Alexie’s adult novel The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (it’s labeled as adult, anyway), The Absolutely True Diary is hilarious and sad at the same time. Sometimes you don’t know if you’re laughing or crying. Sometimes you’re laughing and crying at the same time. Sometimes you don’t know if you should laugh or cry. Ellen Forney’s illustrations, which are supposed to be Junior’s (he’s an amateur cartoonist), are like this as well, combining the funny and sad and brilliantly helping give life to Junior.

Marie Soriano

Anaya, Rudolfo. Bless Me, Ultima. Berkeley: Warner Books, 1994. ISBN 0-446-60025-3. $ 5.50. 262 pages. Age: Young Adult

“Why does evil go unpunished? Why does He allow evil to exist?”

Antonio Márez is an inquisitive and thoughtful young boy, overwhelmed by moral and religious questions. He asks questions about justice, morality, and the nature of God. He deeply searches for different ways of viewing the world. Antonio’s mother however, seems to have a fixed plan for his life. María Márez, a devout Catholic, wishes Antonio to be a priest. When Antonio is seven, Ultima, a respected spiritual curandera, a healer, comes to live with them. Ultima expands Antonio’s horizons well beyond priesthood and Catholicism. Ultima tells Antonio stories of “legends of [his] ancestors,” and the “glory and the tragedy of the history of [his] people.” Ultima teaches him the language of nature, opening his eyes to a world filled with meanings. Growing up, Antonio encounters many tragedies that further complicate his pursuit for religious morality and justice. He witnesses Lupito and Narciso’s murder and Florence’s tragic death.

Antonio’s vision gradually matures and enables him to see many aspects of life. Young Antonio arrives at adulthood in the presence of Ultima. Not only does Antonio learn to see through various lenses, he also learns to take strength from his traumatic experiences, rather than weakness. Through his past experiences Antonio blossoms to a new age and develops a deep sense of “sympathy for people.” “Bless Me, Ultima” is a coming-of-age story, in which everything including one’s faith is constantly evolving and growing. Ultima embodies a profound sense of understanding and sympathy which overcomes all that is “evil.” And Antonio… his God is shattered to countless different gods, each containing a story of their own.

“I went to confession every Saturday and on Sunday morning I took communion, but I was not satisfied. The God I so eagerly sought was not there.”

Aria Fani

Avasthi, Swati. Split. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. ISBN 978-0-375-86340-0. $16.99.

It’s been five years since 16-year-old Jace Witherspoon has seen his big brother, Christian. But like his brother, Jace too has had to split from his home. This time, Jace stands up to his abusive father. And while he is able to throw a few punches, his more experienced father throws harder punches before kicking his son out of their Chicago home. With split lips and only $3.84, Jace arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother’s one-bedroom apartment in Albuquerque.

Like Christian, Jace tries to move on with his life. He has a new home and a new school, yet he can’t forget his old life. Although his bruises heal, the teenager is haunted by his past. He worries about his mother’s safety. He worries about turning into his father – he already resembles him physically. And he worries about his secret.

Split is a compelling read from the first line to the last page. Newcomer Swati Avasthi keeps readers turning page after page with her emotional and dramatic story. The dialogue is natural, not forced. The characters, especially Jace and Christian, are intensely real and defined, as are their struggles. Split is an honest depiction of the physical and emotional effects of domestic violence. This is an excellent book for young readers as well as adults who will enjoy the fictional narrative yet all-too-real elements of Split.

Kristina Blake

Bell, Hilari. The Last Knight. (A Knight and Rogue Novel.) Eos, 2007. ISBN 0060825030. $16.99

To say it was a dark and stormy night would be a gross understatement. It was colder than a witch's kiss, wetter than a spring swamp, and blacker than a tax collector's heart. A sane man would have been curled up in front of the fire with a cup of mulled wine and a good boo—, ah, a willing wench. But not me. I was out in it. I'm squire to a hero.

In a world where Knight errants are a thing of the past, Sir Michael Sevenson decides that being a protector and saviour of the weak would be the perfect job for him! When attempting to prove himself against the scoffs of his peers, he and his reluctant squire Fisk rescue a damsel in distress from the confines of her towering prison, but unbeknownst to them, she is being held captive for one very good reason: Lady Ceciel murdered her husband, and the dead man’s family is not happy!

Hilari Bell’s witty opening is just the beginning of the comic capers, as squire and hero undertake the ultimate quest for justice that takes them hundreds of miles further than they ever anticipated. The narrative structure follows the intertwined first person voices of both Michael and Fisk, which gives the tale an incredible depth, and an insight into the peculiar minds and friendship of a very unlikely duo.

Bell is the recipient of two ALA awards for The Goblin Wood, and A Matter of Profit, and her tongue in cheek saga is sure to be appreciated by all ages.

Ellen Nef

Berk, Josh. The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. ISBN 0375856994. $16.99. Ages 13 and up.

Hamburger Halpin is the online moniker of Will Halpin, an overweight deaf student trying to succeed at a “normal” high school. His disability doesn’t buy him any friends and he ends up buddies with another unpopular kid, Devon, who knows rudimentary sign language. Because of his disability, Will is perceptive in different ways than other students and is able to read lips and body language, offering a unique perspective for the rich inner voice that most characters in the novel would never suspect he has.

While on a field trip to a coal mine, Pat Chambers, a popular athlete, falls down the mine shaft to his death. Was it an accident? Or murder? Will and Devon fashion themselves on the Hardy Boys and are hot on the case. Could it be A.J., Pat’s former friend? Or Miss Prefontaine, the math teacher who had an affair with Pat? Or does it have to do with Pat’s father, who is involved in a government scandal?

Though the story’s pace and tone change drastically about halfway through, many readers will overlook this thanks to the strong voice and stereotype-defying characters. Deaf jokes abound, and Will’s disability is overcome with a plethora of instant message conversations. This modern take on the Hardy Boys is a pleasure to read.

Fran Merlie

Canales, Viola. The Tequila Worm. New York: WendyLamb, 2005. ISBN 0-385-74674-1. U.S. $15.95/ $22.95 CAN. Ages 12 and up.
Winner of the Pura Belpre Award

This is a welcome change from many of the sad and tragic stories about Mexican-American kids and families. Canales has woven a sweet story about the strength of love and the power of community.

Sofia lives in the barrio with her family, Mama, Papa, and her little sister Lucy. Life is hard at times; they’re a poor family in a poor neighborhood. In addition, Sofia has her share of taunting at school because she’s Mexican-American. Luckily, Sofia has a loving, supportive family and a best friend, Berta, who is always there for her. But despite a happy home life and a loving community, Sofia doesn’t want to stay in the barrio forever. When Sofia gets a scholarship to a boarding school where there’s a white majority, will her family and Berta support Sofia’s dreams?

This is an important novel about being able to hold on to who you are while stepping into another culture. It’s about being able to navigate through these two worlds, the culture of your family and that of the mainstream. This is an issue, not just for Mexican-Americans but for anyone whose familial and cultural traditions are different from the mainstream or have been considered on the periphery. How is one able to go to college and have a career as part of mainstream culture yet not lose the culture they came from?

The Tequila Worm is an optimistic novel with a Hallmark movie feel, and I don’t mean that as an insult or a jab. More cynical readers may have a problem with the novel’s sweetness. They may also have a problem with the fact that although Sofia and Berta want very different lives, they support one another. Sofia wants to go to college while Berta wants to marry her high school sweetheart right after high school and have children. Well, I think that’s one of the novel’s themes: unconditional love. Sometimes people want very different things in life, and that’s okay, and there’s no reason why very different people can’t love and support one another. There are times when the book is trite or when something is glossed over and not as developed as it could be; however, that doesn’t necessarily make the novel less enjoyable.

If you would like to read other books about navigating between cultures, try The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin (for a Taiwanese-American perspective) and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (for a Native American perspective).

Marie Soriano

Carmody, Isobelle. Alyzon Whitestarr. New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN 978-0-375-83938-2. U.S. $17.99/ $20.99 CAN. Hardback. Ages 13-18.

Alyzon Whitestarr can be described as a paranormal romance, although the romance is only a small part of the storyline. Even so, the romantic tension is intelligently written and beats Twilight as well as all the other Twilight wanna-bes that have been published lately. Australian writer Isobelle Carmody weaves science fiction, mystery, suspense, and romance to make an electrifying tapestry.

Alyzon Whitestarr is the only member of the family without an extraordinary artistic talent. But after an accident and a short coma, that changes: Alyzon has gained the ability to “smell” people’s feelings and emotions. With her enhanced sense, Alyzon discovers that there’s a conspiracy to spread an evil virus that causes severe depression and hopelessness, and what’s more—her family has become a target.

The most fascinating aspect of the novel is the concept of depression and mental illness as a virus. Is it empowering to people who suffer from depression or condescending? Does it help people who have never suffered from depression to understand it? It may, in fact, be a useful metaphor for what depression and suicidal thoughts feel like. Carmody is not the only one to re-imagine a physical or mental illness, disability, or syndrome. One example is Changeling by Delia Sherman. In her novel, Sherman rewrites Aspberger’s Syndrome which is a form of autism. In Changeling, when fairies take human children, they replace the human child with a look-a-like who has characteristics uncannily similar to those of Aspberger’s. Rick Riordan in his Percy Jackson and the Olympians series is a second example where having ADHD and dyslexia are signs of being a demi-god. But Carmody gives a sense of the seriousness of depression and the stigma attached to them, unlike Sherman and Riordan who make Aspberger’s, ADHD, and dyslexia a sign of specialness without really presenting the real-world hardships that kids with them face every day. But is this necessarilya bad thing? I don’t know, but the trend that the three novels show in re-conceptualizing conditions and disabilities is proving to be an interesting one.

Marie Soriano

Carmody, Isobelle. The Farseekers, The Obernewtyn Chronicles, Book 2. New York: Random House, 1990. ISBN 978-0-375-85768-3. U.S. $6.99/ $7.99 CAN. Ages 13-18.

Carmody gives readers a journey story with action, suspense, and tragedy.

This time Elspeth leads a group of Misfits on a mission to find a powerful psychic force and find out what the Council knows about Obernewtyn.

This second book in the dystopian saga is a good read, but there are elements from the first novel that I miss: the close friendships and character development. This time Elspeth is apart from her close friends, and she’s surrounded by new characters. I find them less interesting than those in the first novel. (Her friends from the first book are there but less prominent.) The main character is busy traveling, meeting new people and evaluating them as she narrates the story, so readers get a sense of who they are. However, it’s hard to care for them and develop any kind of emotional attachment as a reader.

Nevertheless, The Farseekers is a good story, a well-written page turner. I hope that later in the series Carmody further develops the characters she has presented and does not introduce too many new ones. Either way, the action, adventure, and suspense are enough to keep me with her.

Marie Soriano

Carmody, Isobelle. Obernewtyn, Book One: the Obernewtyn Chronicles. New York: Random House, 1987. ISBN 978-0-375-85767-6. U.S. $6.99/ $7.99 CAN. Ages 12-18.

If a novel features blurbs from respected masters in science fiction and fantasy, then it’s probably going to be a good read. Obernewtyn is that—a darn fine one. Australian author Isobelle Carmody began writing the electrifying Obernewtyn Chronicles when she was in high school. But this series is a far cry from the well-known American Christopher Paolini series that is so deriviative. This first book in the Obernewtyn Chronicles shows that even as a teen, Carmody already had an extraordinary talent for storytelling. Fasten your seatbelts, pick up Obernewtyn, Book One and get ready for a gripping futuristic apocalyptic tale.

Imagine a future in which an environmental disaster, a possibly nuclear holocaust called the Great White has scourged the land. There are no machines, cars, computers, or planes, and in their place are horses and carts. Modern technology and information have been lost. But the Great White didn’t only bring a reign of primitive technology; it brought mutants, those with extrasensory powers. Now imagine a new government—the Council—that orders mutants, called Misfits, to be burned and has appointed a religious order called the Herders to hunt them down. Those who use their powers knowingly are killed, while those who don’t realize what they are given leniency, sent to the Obernewtyn compound in the mountains. This is the world that orphaned mutant teen Elspeth Gordie lives in. She manages to keep her extrasensory abilities hidden, and as the daughter of seditioners, Elspeth is already watched closely at the orphanage. Surrounded by suspicious guardians, for her life is tense. When a guardian from Obernewtyn suspects the teen might unknowingly be a mutant, Elspeth expects the worst. However, to her surprise, she finds friends in other Misfits: Matthew, another telepath and mind reader, Dameon, an empath, and Cameo, a future-seer. But this close-knit group of friends may not be safe at Obernewtyn for much longer. Cameo is being called in to the compounds’ mysterious doctor for treatments that leave her catatonic, emotionally drained and fearful, and Elspeth is next on the list. Elspeth must find out what is happening to Cameo and what the scheming guardians of Obernewtyn are up to before it’s too late.

As in her Little Fur series for younger readers, Carmody presents environmental issues here. I also admire Carmody’s portrayal of Dameon, who is blind. She never makes his disability an issue. Although many adults and children have disabilities, they are rarely portrayed in children’s and young adult literature and when they are, the disability is a major issue in the novel that the characters have to come to terms with. Such novels include Rules, A Mango-Shaped Space, and Harry Sue. It would be fantastic if other authors followed Carmody’s lead, showing that kids with disabilities are more than kids with disabilities.

Marie Soriano

 

Cornish, D.M. Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling. New York: Penguin, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-14-240913-8. Ages 9-12

I’m not sure I can describe the complexity of the Half-Continent, the world that D.M. Cornish has created in Foundling. First of all, let me point out something. Of Cornish’s 434 page book (paperback), the last 121 pages are devoted entirely to a Explicarum, essentially a glossary with several appendices. On more than one occasion when reading this book, I found myself referring to this glossary, not because I didn’t necessarily know what the term meant (Cornish is remarkably good at introducing you slowly but continually to his world), but because I wanted, and sometimes desperately needed, more information about this entrancing world. This became even more prominent as I finished the story and found myself reading through definitions of terms, explanations of concepts, and summaries of characters with a determination that bordered on obsession. Yes, Cornish’s world is that complex and that compelling, all the more so because it is so very different from so many other fantasy novels. There are no wizards, no centaurs, and, as far as I’ve noted, no dragons. What there are, are monsters. Monsters that are in constant conflict with man, monsters that populate the shadows. What is even more interesting about this book, though, is the way we view it. The audience perceives the tale from the view of a young (male) orphan with the name of a girl, Rossamünd.

Rossamünd dreams of high adventure on the vinegar seas but is devastated when he discovers that he is to be trained as a lamplighter, a specialized soldier of the Empire that, perhaps unsurprisingly, lights the lamps in the evening and douses them in the morning. The job is much more dangerous than it might first sound though, as these are some of the people who constantly have to vie with monsters, helping to keep the roads clear and safe to travel. Foundling, though, is mostly about Rossamünd’s journey to the Lamplighters base, where he will be trained. This journey puts him in contact with people like Europe, a powerful female fulgar (a bio-enhanced warrior who can wield lightning) who kills a monster right in front of him. Though he comes, in many ways, to respect her, he also isn’t sure he agrees with her, especially because the first monster he sees her kill, to him, seems less the monstrous beast and more the gentle, if simple, giant.

Cornish’s text in many ways lays out a set of assumptions in his text about how his world works, assumptions that in many ways Rossamünd is a party to. By exploring his own world from this young characters point of view, these assumptions are questioned and sometimes challenged, but it is a challenge that in many ways feels like it is just beginning. Cornish’s world doesn’t feel as real as it does just because it is has a glossary that is huge and full of terms we don’t know, but because his world is in many ways very much like our own, full of assumptions, falsehoods and half-truths that everybody is expected to believe, but that shouldn’t be taken as always necessarily true. For this reason alone, this world is worth reading about, but don’t worry, Cornish’s writing, his dialogue, his character development, and his sense of his world, are all so very good that reading this book will never be a chore.

Sean Printz

de la Pena, Matt. We Were Here. New York: Delacorte, 2009. $17.99. ISBN 0-385-73667-1. 368 pp.

It’s over two weeks since I finished Matt de la Pena’s third novel and I am still thinking about it. The characters stay on one’s mind-- for de la Pena’s book is populated with fully-embodied, realistic people the reader cares about, a lot. De la Pena’s three novels present scruffy male adolescents on the downside, with little support from family, friends, society, or circumstance. What his main characters do have are substance, resourcefulness, and depth. From Sticky in Ball Don’t Lie to Miguel in We Were Here, they are protagonists whose struggles more privileged readers don’t know much about, protagonists in situations such readers don’t themselves much encounter. His characters are troubled or in trouble or both. And they’re important in contemporary literature (“Attention must be paid….”) because they reside in stories both familiar to and representative of many contemporary readers, such as those in my classrooms at the urban, diverse San Diego State University (where Matt was a student). In Ball Don’t Lie, inarticulate Sticky’s home life follows him everywhere, like a dark cloud. In Mexican White-Boy, de la Pena’s protagonist, half Chicano/ half white, negotiates two different worlds—with difficulty. But gifted writer that de la Pena is, he does not strand his characters; he just stresses out them a lot-- and thus elicits from them and many side characters the substance, resourcefulness, and depth mentioned above. Sometimes there’s romance, sometimes there’s friendship, sometimes there’s family for the protagonist to come through the plot with. Sometimes too there are betrayals and disappointments; in all cases, the characters and the plots are convincing, memorable, moving. The stories’ resolutions are not neat and pat, but they are realistically hopeful and satisfying. Somehow, however, they’re not final. By which I mean, the reader keeps thinking about the characters long after the book is finished. That’s a compliment.

In We Were Here, readers meet Miguel, half/Chicano/half white, 16 years old, just when he is reeling, just when the seams of his life have come apart and the consequences are starting. What seams? Why the consequences?--the reader asks. But de la Pena has plotted this story well. The suspense lasts until the surprising plots twists near the book’s end. We know that Miguel has been sentenced to a year in a group home, a Juvi kind of arrangement, but we don’t know why. We know he is estranged from his mother but not why; we know his father has just been killed in Iraq and that a major figure in his life is his older brother, Diego. We know Miguel is smart and that the judge has required of him that he keep a journal. The journal is what we are reading in fact, an up-to-the moment first person account of what is happening to Miguel—but not why it is happening. The journal includes comments on the books Miguel has been reading, like Catcher in the Rye and Of Mice and Men--relevant to the story and interesting for readers: subtle metafictional complexities.

Other characters in the group home are developed in association with Miguel into genuine people whose life circumstances are memorable. Indeed, Mong and Rondell (with two “lls”) are engrossing companions on Miguel’s journey down the coast of California. De la Pena’s device of having Miguel read Mong’s and Rondell’s court files brings us—and him—up close to the raw events in the two boys’ disparate personal histories. How all three—Miguel, Mong, and Rondell-- wind up in the group home is the first part of the novel. Then their escape-- new lives in Mexico?-- makes up the rest of the very convincing story.

I’ll be using this novel in my Adolescence in Literature classes. Highly recommended.

Alida Allison

Dokey, Cameron. Golden. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. ISBN 978-1-4169-3926-9. Ages 9-12.

This wonderful young adult novel retells the story “Rapunzel.” Only thing, in this retelling, Rapunzel is as “bald as any egg.” As you might guess, this is not your run of the mill, everyday Rapunzel story. Golden starts in much the same manner that the fairy tale does: A husband sneaks into the garden of a sorceress (she’s not quite a witch in this version) and steals some rapunzel for his rather demanding wife. He is, of course, caught, and the sorceress has him take her back to his wife, a beautiful woman whose primary occupation seems to be combing her long blond hair. A deal is struck. The woman gets to eat all the rapunzel she wants, but when the baby is born, if the woman rejects her baby upon first seeing it, the sorceress takes her. The baby is born bald, and the woman, unable to conceive of a child being beautiful with no hair, rejects the child entirely...and so Rapunzel’s life begins with the Melisande (the sorceress).

Golden is a touching book about the way in which beauty is, as the author states, “not just in the eye of the beholder.” It is, however, not a direct retelling of the Rapunzel story, but more of a telling of how the story could of come to be. It is set in a world full of magic, but there is a lot of fear that comes with that magic as well, fear that imposes on Rapunzel and Melisande’s lives. In this book, there are still almost every feature you’ll recognize from the fairy tale “Rapunzel.” There is still a tower, and a girl with tower length golden hair. There is even a prince. They all just may not fit into the puzzle the way you expect.

Sean Printz

Easton, Kelly. White Magic. New York: Wendy Lamb, 2007. ISBN 978-0-375-83769-2. U.S. $15.99/ $21.00 CAN. Ages 13 and up.

White Magic is an adaptation of Easton’s play Three Witches and a Wart, and I must say it makes a fine, poignant novel. It’s about four teens: Chrissie, Yvonne, Karen, and Jimmy. Each chapter is a first person narrative of one of the characters.

Chrissie, age fifteen, is the new girl. Three years after her father’s death, her mother decides to move them from Vermont to Los Angeles, where her new well-to-do boyfriend has bought them a condo. This is a problem for Chrissie considering she loves Vermont and misses her father terribly. One afternoon, as she takes a walk alone, she meets Yvonne.

Yvonne, also fifteen, is the goth girl with a heart of gold. Yvonne spots Chrissie reading the ad for psychic readings she posted and introduces herself. They become friends, and Yvonne invites Chrissie to be part of the coven with her and her best friend Karen. Yvonne lives with her single dad, an immigrant from Romania. When Yvonne was a little girl, her father brought her to the United States, stealing her away from her careless Gypsy mother. Although she adores her father, she often longs for her mother.

Karen, fifteen, is obsessed with boys and has been taken advantage of so many times the kids at school call her “slut.” Thankfully, she has Yvonne and Chrissie in her life for support. She’s soft-spoken and rarely speaks up for herself. Her latest crush is Jimmy. But Jimmy wants nothing to do with her. She doesn’t know what to do.

Jimmy, seventeen, is an alcoholic whose mother was an alcoholic. He lives with his ex-military dad who is usually out working. His mother left both of them when she decided to get sober and make a clean start. Jimmy uses alcohol to forget how much emotional pain he’s in. Unlike the girls, his friends are a group of boys who like to get drunk, get high and hurt others. He has no support system.

Unlike most novels about witches, White Magic is not a fantasy nor does it involve the supernatural. This is really a book about teens trying to have some control over their lives. When we’re teens, we may very well feel out of control and our sense of stability may be wrenched from us. What can teens do? They can create a support system like Chrissie, Yvonne and Karen do, and they can make wise decisions about things they do have control over. Easton conveys this hopeful, optimistic message without being preachy or moralistic. Her book is a genuinely moving character study.

Marie Soriano

Eddings, David. The Belgariad: Pawn of Prophecy. New York: Corgi, 1982, republished 2006. ISBN 978-0-552-55476-3. $6.99. Ages 11+. 346 pp.

This new republished edition of the first book in David Edding’s popular series The Belgariad brings a fantasy world of gods at war, sorcerers, and the coming of age of the protagonist Garion, together into an accessible new paperback package.

Garion is a young farm boy who is being raised by his Aunt Pol. The story begins when he is only a little child running around in the kitchen of the farm that Aunt Pol works in. He has a fairly normal childhood playing on the farm and getting into trouble with Aunt Pol for many escapades with the other children.

But Garion’s favorite thing to do is listen to stories about the gods—particularly Torak, the evil god who declared war on the other gods in order to steal the Orb of Alder, which is extremely powerful, only to be defeated by Balgarath the sorcerer. Garion’s favorite storyteller is a troubadour he calls Mister Wolf. Mister Wolf comes in and out of Garion’s life on the farm and one day when he comes back after an absence of several years, the adventure begins.

Throughout his childhood, Garion thinks the tales about the gods are only stories, but little does he know, the stories are far from being myths. Indeed, he himself is deeply wrapped up in the middle of it. Together with Aunt Pol, Mister Wolf, a smith named Durnik, and two men from other lands named Silk and Barak, Garion sets off on a whirlwind adventure across the many kingdoms of his world chasing a mysterious object and encountering many dangers.

This first book in Edding’s epic series is fun and exciting. He has created a fascinating new world full of interesting characters, some with supernatural abilities, and invented many new races and cultures.

Edding’s ability to write a great epic in which mystery, fantasy, and adventure are woven together made it hard for me to put this book down. His writing is fluid and easy to follow. And he is a master storyteller who has influenced contemporary fantasy writers such as Christopher Paolini, the author of the Inheritance Trilogy. I cannot wait to get the rest of the books in Eding’s series, and I expect that other readers will feel the same.

Joyce Ho

Ellis, Deborah. Lunch with Lenin. Canada: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008. ISBN 978-1-55455-105-7. (Ages 13-16)

I'm not a mother, but I can empathize with the conflicting instincts that come with the job. On the one hand, you want to shield your child from unnecessary pain and trauma. On the other, you don't want them to go into the world blindly, naive to some of life's more difficult realities. Such feelings of ambivalence are evoked in me by Deborah Ellis' Lunch with Lenin, a collection of short stories that deals with the one subject that strikes fear into the heart of every parent: kids and drugs.

This book is best suited for adolescent and young adult readers over the age of 13, who generally pick out their own reading material and aren’t subject to the same kind of parental censorship as comes with the territory for younger readers. The content, certainly, is unsuitable for young children. Still, to recommend Ellis’ collection is potentially risky business—after all, some parents may be incensed by the book’s subject matter, whereas others may want their children to navigate their own choice of reading material, no matter how thorny. Suffice to say, Ellis is neither a reactionary nor a romantic. Her stories have no political agenda beyond painting a portrait of the many facets of drug use in countries all over the world. Some of the stories are touching and uplifting, some are horrifying. Yet all are written out of a motivation not to push one overarching message about drugs, but rather to examine the facts and themes of a subject frequently stigmatized by the mainstream discourse.

The book opens with the surprisingly moving “Through the Woods,” which tells of a 14-year-old boy named Matthew who is seen in the beginning of the story buying marijuana from a popular football player. Immediately the reader feels that this story is headed somewhere very bad indeed: we imagine that Matthew will get caught, face expulsion, possibly a juvenile detention center, and quite probably get kicked out of his house. But Ellis has a knack for unconventional storytelling, and thus the story goes in a very different direction. Matthew takes the drugs that he has bought to his sick grandmother, who is languishing forgotten in a retirement home, and rolls her several joints that she then smokes for the pain she is experiencing as the result of a medical condition. The final scene sees grandson and grandmother sitting quietly among the trees, listening to the sounds of nature, and Matthew feels at that moment closer to her than he has ever felt to anyone. It is a beautiful, simple, and touching story that derives its material from an unexpected subject matter.

However, the following story is very much the opposite—devastating, stomach turning, and difficult for even an adult reader like myself to get through. “Pretty Flowers” tells of a small opium orchard in Afghanistan run by a struggling peasant family whose land is destroyed by government bulldozers in an effort to curb the opium trade flowing between Europe and the Middle East. The family becomes destitute as a result of the destruction of their farm, and to compensate their landlord, the father decides to sell his twelve-year-old daughter Tahmina to the middle-aged landlord for marriage.

Now, I am personally not one who believes in shielding children from reality, but I can imagine that if I had read this piece as a young adult it would have profoundly disturbed me. Even as an adult reader I felt deeply troubled by “Pretty Flowers,” and I have a hard time imagining that any reader between the ages of 13 and 16 could read this story and not be scarred for life by it. Certainly there is a fine line between telling children the truth and exposing them to things before they are ready. On which side of the line does this fall? That will be up for each individual reader—and perhaps their parents as well—to decide.

Thus, recommending this book for the 13- to16-year-old age group is a difficult task. While some of the stories are appropriate for the full age range, others should perhaps be reserved for the older readers of that set. Ellis is a fine writer with a keen eye for detail and a remarkable ability to describe places and people all over the world, from Bolivia to Russia, and from suburban Canada to the slums of Mongolia. But I did have difficulty trying to decide whether her writing style matches up with her target audience. Certainly her writing is sophisticated and at times poetic, but her subject matter remains somewhat questionable for younger readers, and may not be elevated enough for the older of the young adult readers.

This book is by no means political, which is the most impressive thing about it. Some of the stories in Lunch with Lenin deal with children who are victims of drug abuse or are themselves drug users, while other stories only deal with drugs as tangential to the main storyline. Never does Ellis demonize or romanticize drug use—rather, she simply tells the stories and lets the reader decide which themes and messages they will take away. It is an interesting approach to young adult fiction, and certainly a courageous one, but also one that I can imagine limits her audience a great deal. Perhaps simply letting the stories speak for themselves, or writing stories that don’t explicitly argue against drug use is in itself a statement about America’s complicated relationship with drugs.

And perhaps the shock that comes from the darker stories in this collection are exactly the kind of clear-eyed truthfulness about the subject that young adult readers need in order to make their own informed decisions. The blending of tragic stories with uplifting ones is masterfully done in this collection, and in the end, Ellis’s stories serve as a very realistic, if at times hard, introduction to the “real world.”

Taylor Nelligan

Fantaskey, Beth. Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-15-206384-9. $17.00. Ages 12-16.

Jessica always knew she was adopted from Romania, but as far as she’s concerned, she is a pretty normal American teenager who likes math, 4-H, and cute Jake Zinn who has great muscles from pitching hay on his family’s farm. So when dark, handsome Lucius Vladescu shows up at her house, calling her by her birth name and insisting that she is really a vampire princess who was engaged to him at birth in a blood pact between two warring vampire clans, Jessica is less than pleased. As a perfectly rational mathlete, Jessica knows very well that vampires do not exist, and she does not appreciate the way Lucius keeps attaching himself to her at school and frightening Jake away. However, when Lucius finally does get the message that she’s not interested, Jessica discovers that she may believe in vampires, after all…and she finds she is far more attracted to the irrational mysteries Lucius has been offering her than she would have expected.

In the meantime, Lucius has frustrations of his own. For one thing, living in a strictly vegan and pacifistic household is not easy for a growing vampire. For another, he is definitely not used to being rebuffed by women who do not believe in his existence. And, more seriously, he has begun to realize that he and Jessica may be at the center of a sinister betrayal planned by his power-hungry vampire uncle. All the while, the folks in Jessica’s rural Pennsylvania town are beginning to get very suspicious of Lucius.

This new teenage vampire novel is a strong addition to the growing genre. Jessica is a more appealing and powerful heroine than the now-famous Bella of the Twilight series; she is feisty and independent, and much of the book has less to do with the romance between her and Lucius than with her own growing awareness of her inner royalty and power. The segments narrated by Lucius are unexpectedly funny, with running postscripts about his enthusiasm for American basketball, and brief excerpts from a book he gives Jessica called Growing Up Undead provide a witty commentary on teen advice books. Whether you like teen high school novels or vampire romances, this book is a good read, packed with high school drama, vampire lore, and sparring romantic protagonists.

Naomi Lesley

Ferraro, Tina. The ABC’s of Kissing Boys. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-385-73582-7. US $8.99/$9.99 CAN. Ages 12-15.

Parker Stanhope’s social life has just been ruined. All of her popular friends in the junior class have made varsity soccer, and she’s stuck as captain of the JV team. Now they won’t speak to her in public, informing her that she’s better off bonding with her younger teammates. Her junior year looks like a disaster, and it hasn’t even started yet. The coach won’t budge; varsity is full, and the only way Parker will get on the team is if someone else leaves. Clearly, sabotage is Parker’s only hope.

Parker has a plan. If she can stage a big uproar at the sports fair and get her older brother’s glamorous friend to kiss her in exchange for giving the team enough money to win the coach the best parking space on campus, she figures the coach will just have to kick some useless varsity player off the team and put her on (after all, who could resist that parking space?). Parker isn’t actually interested in her brother’s friend. But she knows she has to make the kiss look good. The only problem is that she has definitely spent more time honing her soccer skills than her kissing skills. Enter Tristan, the boy across the street, who’s pretty cute, but is after all only a freshman. Tristan has a plan, too; he wants to be popular. In exchange for a little public attention from Parker (never mind that all her popular friends are now ignoring her), he’ll teach her all the kissing skills he learned at camp—that is, as long as they can hide their lessons from their parents, who are engaged in a suburban home improvement war.

Despite the title, this book is really about how a teenage girl manages (or mismanages) her friendships and rediscovers her integrity. Parker is a humorous and engaging narrator. She is predictably un-self-aware, until the very end, when she redeems herself with her former unpopular best friend and with her maligned and long-suffering freshman kissing instructor, who is, of course, the right boy for her despite his uncool youthfulness. The sections which deal with high school politics are the strongest and most realistic, but teen readers are likely to enjoy the romantic plot line as well. This book is an entertaining example of escape fiction that will make good summer vacation reading for teens and pre-teens.

Naomi Lesley

Friesner, Esther. Nobody’s Princess. New York: Random House, 2007. ISBN 978-0-375-87528-1. U.S. $16.99/ $22.99 CAN. Ages 12 and up.

In Nobody’s Princess, Freisner has created a fictional account of Helen of Troy’s childhood and adolescence, giving readers a feisty new heroine. For those of you who have read Homer’s the Iliad, you won’t be disappointed. For those of you who have never read Homer, I think this young adult novel may pique your curiosity.

From the get-go Princess Helen of Sparta, daughter of King Tyndareus and Queen Leda, is not like other Spartan girls. She has no interest in women’s work, like weaving, or getting married, unlike her sister Clytemnestra. She wants to be like her older brothers Castor and Polydeuces, learning how to fight. And with their help she decides to secretly pursue that dream with their trainer Glaucus, a seasoned soldier. From him, she learns perseverance, dedication and discipline. But her adventures really begin when Clytemnestra must leave Sparta for Mykenae in preparation for her arranged marriage to Lord Thyestes. Naturally, Clytemnestra is scared and nervous about leaving her home. To comfort her, Helen, along with their brothers, accompanies Clytemnestra on the journey. From here, Helen embarks on other adventures, meeting the female warrior Atalanta, the one from Greek mythology, and the Oracle at Delphi, who turns out to be full of surprises.

In the Helen of Troy story, it seems she is an object two men are fighting over, nothing more; however, in Nobody’s Princess, Esther Friesner has made Helen a sympathetic character and given her intelligence, strength and agency. She’s a thoughtful character who questions traditional gender roles and double standards in her society. Helen realizes early on as a child that she’s allowed to get away with misbehaving on certain occasions because others find her so beautiful, unlike her sister Clytemnestra who is always punished for her wrongdoings. While this gives Helen an unfair advantage at times, she feels that it is wrong on two levels: her sister is unfairly treated and people tend to underestimate her intelligence and capability. There is nothing superficial about Friesner’s Helen.

Friesner comes from a scholarly background, having gone to Vassar and Yale, and she provides historical notes about Helen at the end of the novel. I think it would be accurate to say that as well as being a well-written young adult novel, it is also a well-researched historical novel. The dialogue and descriptions, the way the characters are written, all these things make the reader feel as if they are in Helen’s time and place. You get wrapped up in her world.

Marie Soriano

Friesner, Esther. Nobody’s Prize. New York: Random House, 2008. ISBN 978-0-375-87531-1. U.S. $16.99/ $21.99 CAN. Ages 12 and up.

This sequel to Nobody’s Princess continues the coming of age story of Helen, princess of Sparta, later to be known as Helen of Troy. Nobody’s Prize takes up where the first book left off. Fourteen-year-old Helen, desperate to join her older twin brothers on the voyage with Jason for the Golden Fleece, disguises herself as a boy and hops aboard the ship Argo with her friend, the freed slave Milo. On the voyage she, once again, meets figures from the Greek myths, of course Jason and the Argonauts, as well as a gay Hercules (and I don’t just mean happy!), Orpheus, Medea, and Theseus. Helen also experiences her first crush on a boy and (drum roll, please) gets her period.

Helen’s adventure is comic, tragic, often suspenseful, and superbly told in a first person narrative. Some purists might complain that Friesner has ruined the classical Greek myths, but I think she breathes new life into the myths for a new generation of readers. In fact, most mythology compilations tend to be dry and boring, and the characters are mostly the same: two dimensional. In contrast, Friesner gives these mythological figures emotional depth. Furthermore, she has read and lovingly studied the Greek myths and their variations and versions, so she knows what she’s doing.

Other readers may have an issue with the inclusion of gay characters. What I love about these characters is that it does not feel as though Friesner makes them gay in order to make a political statement or to force an issue. The fact that they’re gay feels completely natural, and in the novel it’s not treated as a big deal. If I remember correctly from my undergrad world history course, homosexuality was normal in the ancient world among the Greeks; it was common for older men to take younger men as their lovers. (Don’t look so shocked.) I was impressed by Friesner’s historical accuracy and chutzpah in writing gay characters, especially Hercules. You go girl!

If you’re interested in reading other young adult and children’s books featuring gay characters, I recommend Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block or Block’s compiled novels called Dangerous Angels, Totally Joe by James Howe, Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden, and The Manny Files by Christian Burch.

Marie Soriano

Gaiman, Neil and Michael Reaves. Interworld. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2007. ISBN 978-0-06-123896-3. $ 16.99. 237 pages. Age: Young Adult

The “Interworld” is a science fiction novel that revolves around the life of a high school student named Joey Harker. Joey lives in Greenville and has trouble finding his way around. Even getting around his own house is a challenge. For his Social Studies final exam, Joey has to complete an experimental project conducted by Mr. Dimas, his teacher. Mr. Dimas divides the class into ten groups, and each group consists of three students. Every group is dropped off randomly in different parts of the city, and is assigned to find “various checkpoints,” without maps and within a certain time frame. Students are not allowed to carry their cell phones, credit cards or any amount of money. Since Joey has no sense of direction, his group soon falls apart, and each member goes his own way. Lost in the city, Joey suddenly sees a strange fog. Having emerged into the fog, he realizes that the town has completely changed. All the cars are painted with bright colors and the siren of the police cars flashes green and yellow instead of red and blue. Finally, Joey arrives to his house and finds a new family living there. Overwhelmed, Joey runs out of the house. He returns to school to ask for Mr. Dimas’ help. Shocked to see Joey, Mr. Dimas tells him that Joey had drowned last year! Suddenly, a woman joined by two other strange-looking men appears in the room, and takes Joey to a flying ship called Lacrimae Mundi. Joey discovers a magical force which enables him to “walk” into other dimensions. Joey’s life has forever changed, with a set of new adventures awaiting him.

Aria Fani

Grandits, John. Blue Lipstick: Concrete Poems. New York: Clarion, 2007. ISBN 978-0-618-56860-4. $15.00 U.S./ $19.95 CAN. Ages 14-18.

John Grandit’s collection of prose poems follows the life of Jessie, a teenage girl dealing with (what else?) being a teenager. Jessie has plenty to say about bad hair days, high school (including teachers, assignments and jocks), infuriating grown-ups, emotional walls, younger brothers, and relationships (to people and time).

What makes this book absolutely fabulous isn’t just the honest, quirky prose poetry but the way Grandits presents it. It’s apparent that he spent a lot of time and effort to make his collection a work of art. Every poem is a visual smorgasbord. Think e.e. cummings + graphic design. For example, the poem “Silver Spandex,” about Jessie’s conversation with a cheerleader who plays guitar, is written so the text creates the shape of a guitar and a cello, the instrument Jessie plays. You have to turn the book to follow the text! I dare you to read this book while you wait in the doctor’s office or at the bus stop.

You might also want to pick up Technically, It’s Not My Fault written from the point of view of Jessie’s brother. If you want to explore more visual poetry, try Emmett Williams’s Anthology of Concrete Poetry and Paul B. Janeczko’s A Poke in the I.

Marie Soriano

Harmel, Kristin. After. New York: Delacorte Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-385-73476-9. $16.99.

Lacey’s world abruptly changes when her dad is killed in a car accident. She struggles with her family relationships, hardly tolerates friendships, and believes her father’s death is her fault. Instead of dealing with her own problems, Lacey shifts her focus and tries to help others at school. She develops a support group for students who have lost a parent.

Although categorized as a young adult book, After is a story that crosses age group boundaries. The heart-wrenching tale is deeply relatable to anyone who has lost a loved one, especially a parent. Kristin Harmel properly addresses adolescent grief. Everyone deals with grief differently; there isn’t one way to cope with losing a loved one. Harmel depicts these differences excellently. The characters and the dialogue are real. Although After is a fictional story, to some, the experience of loss is not fictional at all. Anyone who has lost a loved one, especially at a young age, will understand and appreciate the honesty of After.

Kristina Blake

Helgerson, Joseph. Horns & Wrinkles. Illus. Nicoletta Ceccoli. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. ISBN 978-0618-61679-4. U.S. $16.00.

Have you ever seen a troll along the Mississippi River? After reading Joseph Helgerson’s Horns & Wrinkles you’ll be expecting to. In the small town of Blue Wing, Minnesota, there are trolls, blue wing fairies, shooting stars, and talking crickets. And no one blinks twice.

Here is a fantasy with a small-town flavor, told in the first person by twelve-year-old Claire who is constantly being bullied by her cousin Duke, and this is how we meet her—with Duke holding her over a bridge along the river. But instead of landing in the water, Claire finds herself in the boat of a magical old woman, while Duke finds a rhinoceros horn where his nose should be, a horn that grows every time he bullies someone.

Ever the rebel, Duke refuses to go home, choosing instead to “rough it” in the wilderness in an attempt to avoid being grounded. But when Claire gives in to his mother’s questioning, and Duke is recovered, there is neither punishment nor denial of the fantastic by any of the adults in the story. Apparently, strange goings-on or “rivery” occurrences are common in Blue Wing.

Then Duke’s parents are found turned to stone with Duke nowhere to be found. From hereon begins Claire’s quest—to find the trolls who have the stone feather, the one thing that can turn her relatives back into flesh and blood, and to find Duke. But once she does find the trolls and the feather, the story becomes even more “rivery.” She finds Duke cavorting with three river trolls, Jim Dandy, Biz and Stump, who have problems of their own. Because of an old curse by queenly troll Bodacious Deepthink, each male troll must bring her a shooting star before the birth of his first-born; if not, he becomes human (that’s a punishment by the way).

Bullied yet again by Duke, and desperate to get a hold of that stone feather, Claire has no choice but to tag along. Until the trolls tie her up. Then she truly has no alternative. The trolls go to Bodacious Deepthink’s lair with their prisoner. There the trolls leave Duke, who soon transforms completely into a rhinoceros, and Claire, who is later rescued by one guilt-ridden troll.

But the story doesn’t end there. Claire and the troll must rescue Duke from Bodacious Deepthink….

Duke’s problematic proboscis tricks readers into thinking that Horns & Wrinkles is mostly a Pinocchio story. Not quite. In fact, the story is less about Duke and more about Claire, the trolls, and the magic and mystery of the small town of Blue Wing. Since there are more than a couple story arcs in the novel, don’t be surprised if you start feeling a little lost. This is especially true if you try to put the book down and pick it up again after a long time. It’s best to read the book if not in one sitting, then within a few days, before you have time to lose track of all the story lines.

By the same token, the novel is good fun, and if you do get a bit confused, it would be well worth it to rifle through earlier parts of the book to re-orient yourself. Helgerson’s characters are hilarious, and he captures the magic of family stories and storytelling. Claire’s grandfather, Grandpa B as she calls him, knows how to hold people’s attention:

[E]veryone’s eyes shifted to Grandpa, wanting to hear about the other horn in our family.
Then nothing got said for a bit as Grandpa got his facts straight. He was a knobby old guy in his eighties, prone to coughing fits, felt hats, and getting lost. While waiting, I couldn’t spy a neighborhood kid moving, or feel a breeze shuffling, or hear a clock ticking. The whole world seemed to be hanging on what he had to say.
“So?” Mom prodded at last. “Uncle Floyd?”
“Yup,” Grandpa B said. “The one who was the younger brother of you girls’ Great-Great-Great-Grandpa Huntington. Actually, Huntington had a horn for a bit too.”
Everyone exchanged look, the way we always did during Grandpa B’s stories. (39)

After reading this novel, not only will you expect to see river trolls along the Mississippi, you’ll be running to your nearest elders, asking them to tell you a story. Or two.

Marie Soriano

Hoffman, Kerry Cohen. The Good Girl. New York: Random House, Inc., 2008. ISBN 978-0-385-73644-2. $15.99 US/$18.99 CAN. Ages 12 and up.

Lindsay used to be the middle child of a prosperous suburban couple. But since her father lost his job as a psychiatrist due to a malpractice suit, and her older brother Mark died in an accident, Lindsay feels as if everything has been taken from her. Her parents have split up, her brother is gone, and even her supposed friend at school is a spiteful queen bee who wants to keep the new boy at school for herself.

On the outside, Lindsay is the perfect citizen; she's a good student, ambassador for the school, and self-effacing friend and daughter. She is willing to give up whatever she needs for herself--a part in the school play, a date with the new boy, or her father's attention. But inside, she is not so willing to give everything up. Actually, she'd really like to start taking a few things for herself. Lindsay begins stealing and shoplifting things she does not want to replace the things she really does want, but won't ask for, as she waits to be caught so that she can finally be recognized for who she is, instead of for what everyone wants her to be.

This is a young adult "cry for help" novel, told through Lindsay's voice. Teen readers will easily be able to follow the psychology involved and are likely to be engaged by the process of giving Lindsay advice as they read (come on, Lindsay! Stick up for what you want! Tell the truth! Be yourself!). The story follows a familiar formula, complete with cute crush, girl group drama, and emotionally absent parents, and the writing is similarly dependable, as Lindsay faithfully tracks her churning secret feelings. Nevertheless, the formula is successful; the story is engaging, and the confrontations with the queen bee and the distant father are satisfying. Teen readers are likely to enjoy this new novel.

Naomi Lesley

Holder, Nancy. The Rose Bride: A Retelling of “The White Bride and the Black Bride.” Once upon a Time series. New York: Simon Pulse, 2007. ISBN-10: 1-4169-3535-5 $5.99 249 pp.

On the eve of her daughter Rose’s thirteenth birthday, Celestine calls upon her patron goddess, Artemis, to give a gift to Rose upon her entrance into womanhood. Celestine wants her daughter to know that she is always loved, and that love counts for more than riches and is the greatest security in life. But her request has terrible implications for Rose, for the journey to that knowledge is fraught with incredible sorrow. Rose loses all that is dear to her, and is made to endure countless grievances from a stepmother and stepsister. They themselves have lost much, but their losses have only driven them further and further down the dark path they travel. Despite all, Rose will come to embrace love and all it offers her, and will eventually have a chance to help another learn about love as well.

The Rose Bride is a loose retelling of the fairy tale “The White Bride and the Black Bride” in the Once upon a Time series of fairy tale adaptations. The story lends an interesting interpretation of the fairy tale, but the exploration of loss and emotion is disappointingly overwrought—the heart-rending episodes reach the point of saturation way before the climax of the book, and the main theme becomes belabored and forced. It doesn’t help that the characters aren’t as well rounded as they should be, which would make it easier for readers to connect with them and their trials.

SarahEllen Hickle

Jennings, Richard W. Ghost Town. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2009. ISBN 0547194714. $16. Ages 13 and up.

Paisley, Kansas has had more than its share of bad luck. It’s a place devoid of opportunities, which is why narrator Spencer Adams Honesty and his mother are the only two remaining inhabitants. The only two, that is, if you don’t count Chief Leopard Frog, Spencer’s imaginary friend and representative of the Sac and Fox Tribe that once lived on the land that became Paisley.

At his imaginary friend’s suggestion, Spencer pulls an old 35mm camera out of the attic and begins photographing bugs, plants, and houses. He’s happy with his developed photographs, but oddly enough, some of his pictures include people, the ghosts of the town’s former inhabitants. These photos help lead to a reversal of fortune for Spencer and Paisley with the help of the Chief and the owner of an obscure catalog that sells the camera that Spencer owns.

Richard W. Jennings fills the pages of this novel with sharp descriptions and characterization, providing a sturdy base of realism to support the fantastic details and careening plot. Told with humor and perfectly paced, Ghost Town explores the purpose and the weight of memory and the impact of the past on the present.

Fran Merlie

Keany, Brian. The Hollow People (The Promises of Dr. Sigmundus Book I) Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2007. ISBN 0375843329. $16.99

According to the specific laws of a world directed by Dr. Sigmundus, Dante and Bea should have never met. Furthermore, should a chance happening occur, there was no reason why these two should ever discuss their dreams, for dreams are taboo on the island, and the “shot” is meant to suppress them. But the two do meet, and all laws unwind between them as they discover the awful truth about Dr. Sigmundus, and the mysterious city that haunts both their dreams.

Keany’s magical tale draws from an inspiring well of literary greats (including an epigraph from Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”) and is a powerful exploration of the thin line between man made Utopia and its Dystopian effects. First in “The Promises of Dr. Sigmundus” series, The Hollow People offers enchanting and witty characters with surprising capabilities, and an unforgettable cliff hanger that will leave a reader panting for the next installment.

A great choice for both teen and adult lovers of sci-fi and fantasy. Highly recommended.

Ellen Nef

Le Guin, Ursula K. Voices. Orlando: Harcourt, 2006. ISBN 9-78-0-152-05678-0. $17. Ages 12 and up. 341pp.

Ursula Le Guin, renowned fantasy and science fiction writer, is best known for her Earthsea Cycle books. Now she has begun a new series presenting a beautiful world in a story that is moving and thought provoking.

Set in the Western Shore, this is Le Guin’s second book to take place in this land. It focuses on Ansul, a city consisting mainly of scholars and traders. However, the Ald people, who believe that books and reading are wicked and so have destroyed all the books, have overrun the city. Or so they think. In the Oracle House, a place where great learning once took place, there is a secret hiding place where the few undestroyed books lie. Only the Waylord of the house and our protagonist, a seventeen-year-old girl named Memer, know where and how to access this room. Memer is a Galva, high status for the people of Ansul, but she looks like the Alds, because her father was an Ald who forced himself on her mother. Memer hates seeing her people being oppressed by the Alds, but it is only when the poet Orrec and his wife Gry arrive that she begins to be valorous and the people of Ansul rise up to take back their city.

This story is an intriguing Bildungsroman in which Memer goes from being a helpless angry girl to a wise young woman who learns not to judge all the Ald people in the same way because of their ignorance and race. She learns to distinguish good characteristics and open-mindedness even in people she thinks she should hate. This allows her to grow up, give up her childhood grudges, and become a role model and leader for her people.

This story, while moving and inspirational, is also highly controversial. It could easily start many debates about religion as it plays a large role in the story with the people of Ansul being a people who serve multiple gods and are very scholarly, while the Alds serve one God and believe books are evil and that the Oracle House, as a place of knowledge, is full of demons. Readers could easily interpret these representations according to some of our modern day beliefs and controversies. Yet, literature should be thought provoking and Voices is indeed a well-written and evocative story, even if you do not agree with issues raised in it..

Joyce Ho

LeGuin, Ursula K. Voices. New York: Harcourt, 2006. ISBN 0152056785. $17.00 352 pp.

Seventeen years earlier, the peaceful city of Ansul was savagely conquered by the Alds—a coarse desert people—and its beautiful library destroyed. The Alds believe there is a terrifying evil in the books terrifies them, so anyone found with them is publicly executed. But what the Alds do not know about the secret room in the old house that housed the library, and that there are two left who know the magical symbols needed to enter: young Memer, a siege brat, and the Waylord, former political leader in the old regime. This room houses the books that many risk their lives for, yet it also harbors a secret that lurks in the dark beyond the ancient whispering books.

Memer’s life is turned upside down when strangers Orrec and Gry appear in Ansul. Orrec is a poet committed to performing for both sides of the divide. Suddenly Memer is forced to swallow her dogmatic hatred of the Alds in order to learn how change can be effected peacefully. But there are others whose hatred runs deeper, and they are determined their rule over the heathens will remain unchanged.

Ursula K. LeGuin is loved world wide. As an addition to the Annals of the Western Shore series, Gifts received a Locus Award nomination as well as elected one of the New York Public Library’s “Books for the teen age 2007.” Though the power of literature and stories is a key theme in the novel, LeGuin also attests that it is a novel about violence, and how to deal with passionate and vengeful emotions. As she comments in her interview with Harcourt publishers:

When is acting violently under the impulse of powerful, righteous emotion the correct course of action? When is it a better option to restrain righteous emotion in the hope of restraining violence? How do you know when it’s right to explode into rebellion? How do you convince yourself that violence or rebellion may be stupid, cruel, and useless—even when right is very clearly on your side? These are questions most adolescents have to face in one way or another, both in their private and in their public lives.

It is interesting that in this novel the climax of Ansul’s liberation occurs half way through. Indeed, the pace is altered in the second half as readers are taken through the attempts of a city to regain its identity once the conquerors have left. How does a forgotten spiritual past and seventeen years of rule blend with a hopeful future? And how do a people begin to formulate a way of government that improves on the past while attempting to remain true to itself? These engaging questions, as well as the magical earthy fantasy, combine in a powerful tale of hope and personal integrity certain to lead readers to further exploration of LeGuin’s work.

Ellen Nef

Lowenstein, Sallie. In the Company of Whispers. Kensington, MD: Lion Stone Books, 2008. ISBN 0-9658486-7-1. $22. 380 pp.

Extraordinarily imagined, Lowenstein’s novel is a genre-busting multigenerational, science fictional account that brings the reader along on a journey that interweaves Burma in the 1950s, “The Greater East Coast Metropolis” of 2047 (not a nice place), and a mysterious utopian someplace else. To accomplish this, Lowenstein calls upon her own childhood in the newly-emerging independent Burma as a 10-year-old, interspersing her memories with letters actually written at that time by her parents in the person of the book’s “Granna,” a 102-year-old who cannily stays beneath the government’s radar and is thus able to play a key role in the survival of her granddaughter, the book’s protagonist, Zeyya, and the blue-tattoed Jonah, the character from someplace else. Lowenstein also vividly depicts life in the not-too-distant future, with a dictatorship that “Quarantines” (“disappears,” as in Pinochet’s Chile) citizens without warning or explanation. We infer there is a resistance group, but resistance in this society seems futile. The focus, however, is on the three main characters: Zeyya, Jonah, and Granna, and on Zeyya’s slowly-awakening trust in Jonah’s world.

Beyond the intriguing plot, the book is also about memory, familial love, romance, independence-against-all-odds, and what really counts in life

Highly recommended.

A. Allison

Lurie, April. The Less-Dead. New York: Delacorte Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-385-73675-6. $16.99.

Noah enjoys drinking alcohol and doing drugs at parties. Why not? The 16-year-old doesn’t share the beliefs of his religious father, who is the host of a popular evangelical Christian radio program. But his life isn’t just partying once a serial killer begins murdering gay teenagers in the Austin, Texas foster care system – especially when the murders hit close to home. Noah’s friend Will is killed. Furthermore, Noah believes the killer is a regular caller on his father’s radio show.

The Less-Dead addresses adult themes, including alcohol and drugs and sexuality. On the surface it’s a murder mystery. But if readers dig a little deeper, the controversial and compelling story will help them explore important topics about life, religion, and morality.

Kristina Blake

Madigan, L. K. Flash Burnout. New York: Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company, 2009. ISBN 978-0-547-19489-9. $16.00.


Zoom into Blake’s world. On the surface, he has the picture-perfect life – a loving family, a hot girlfriend, and an interesting hobby. But Blake’s world isn’t comparable to a black and white photo. There’s much more color.

After 15-year-old Blake snaps a picture of a woman with a snake tattoo for a class assignment, his world changes. The woman turns out to be the long-lost meth addicted mom of one of his classmates, Marissa. Although he’s dating Shannon, who he thinks is a total babe, Blake can’t stop worrying about Marissa. He cares too much about her.

Flash Burnout is not just another teen love triangle tale. Sure, Blake’s girlfriend Shannon loves him, and his friend Marissa, who is also a photographer, needs him. But this story explores the boundaries and complexities of love and friendship. Can Blake deal with the conflicting roles of boyfriend and friend? The gripping book will make readers hurriedly flip through the pages to find out.

Kristina Blake

Matthews, L.S. The Outcasts. New York: Delacorte, 2007. ISBN 0385733674. $15.99.

The author of Fish and A Dog for Life has written another fine novel, this time for older kids. In The Outcasts, she tells the tale of five British teens who get a lot more than they bargained for on a study abroad trip to Dorset in England’s West Country.

Iz, Joe, Mia, Helen, and Chris are outcasts. Iz, Joe, Helen, and Chris tend to get in trouble at school—shouting at teachers, not paying attention in class, causing mischief and having fights in the hallway, that sort of thing. It’s not that they’re bad kids. On the contrary, they are good kids who have emotional baggage and difficult home lives. Iz’s parents are divorced, and when his mother isn’t putting him down, she’s bickering with a boyfriend or one of her ex-husbands, including Iz’s father. Joe’s mother suffers from depression and doesn’t work. He takes care of himself and her, while his younger sister is in foster care. Helen takes care of her younger siblings—and she has a lot of them. Apparently, Helen’s mother has a habit of making babies and not taking care of them. Sometimes Helen misses weeks of school to care for the children. Chris comes from a well-to-do family, but he’s detached from it, spending more time playing computer games than paying attention to people and applying himself in school. Lastly, Mia is socially awkward. She doesn’t have any friends, and sometimes other students tease her and call her stupid.

So, with all their troubles, each of them is surprised when they are chosen to go on a week-long study trip. They find themselves with a group of other students and a few teachers from school at a mansion in Birdport, Dorset, where a famous crystal skull is kept. There at the mansion, the students are split into groups, each to study with a field researcher, Johan the ecologist, David in physics or Gwyn the biologist and chemist. Iz, Joe, Helen, and Mia are assigned to Johan.

The mystery begins when Iz and Joe overhear Johan telling David he couldn’t retrieve the skull. The next morning, dying with curiosity, Iz and Joe follow Johan to the library. When Johan doesn’t come out, the boys go in to find he’s disappeared. Then Helen, Mia and Chris enter the room, and the group is suddenly transported to another dimension. Eventually, by some miracle, they find Johan in another dimension as well, and he doesn’t have good news. The only way for them to return home is to get through a series of dimensions…and the dangerous challenges each one presents.

As with her other two novels, Matthews’ strength is in character development. The Outcasts is a fun adventure story, but the emphasis is on how Iz, Joe, Helen, Mia, and Chris change on the journey home. The novel’s weakness is Matthews’ explanation of how the dimensions work. However, since the science behind the fiction isn’t what the story is about, it doesn’t matter much, unless you’re a die-hard science fiction fan.

Marie Soriano

Meltzer, Milton. Tough Times. New York: Clarion Books, 2007. ISBN 978-0-618-87445-3. $16.00 US/$21.95 CAN. Ages 12 and up.

Joey’s family is in trouble. In fact, everyone he knows is in trouble. The year is 1931, and everyone is having trouble making ends meet. His father’s window cleaning business keeps losing customers, and his girlfriend’s father is laid off from his job as a reporter for publishing the truth about the poverty and misery in old mill towns like Lowell, Massachusetts. To top it off, Joey’s classmate Hank hates him and tries to frame him for theft.

Just as soon as he and Hank work out their differences, they have bigger issues to worry about. Their fathers, both veterans of World War I, want to go to Washington to participate in the Bonus Army marching on the Capitol to demand the bonuses promised them by Congress. Joey and Hank decide to join the effort, and become caught up in the violence that ensues.

Milton Meltzer has long been recognized for his ability to translate complex historical issues into a format that is appealing to children, and this novel is no exception. Meltzer not only effectively portrays the desperation of many communities during the Great Depression, he also explores, through his characters, a rich tapestry of social history including the legacy of World War I, immigration, and integration.

At times, the telling of history eclipses the narration of Joey’s story; there are moments when the dialogue reads like a very well written history lecture. However, teenagers who are fascinated by American history are unlikely to view this as a fault, and most readers will, in fact, be caught up in Joey’s story by the end. This novel would be worth reading at any time for its thoughtful portrayal of historical events; it is especially timely now, and should be even more appealing to teenagers and adults wishing to explore parallels between the Great Depression and our society today.

Naomi Lesley

Myers, Walter Dean. Fallen Angels. Anv. Ed. New York: Scholastic Paperbacks, 2008. ISBN: 978-0545055765. $6.99 U.S. Ages 12+.

Fallen Angels is a coming of age story centered on a young man named Richie Perry. When his ambitions for college diminish, he volunteers for military service during the Vietnam War. Like many younger enlistees, his romanticized perception of war—gallantry, honor, and complete victory—poorly prepare him and his brothers in arms for what truly lies ahead. While rumors of peace abound, Richie is more concerned with his recent knee injury than the actuality of combat.

On his first patrol, a fellow soldier is killed by a landmine, shaking Richie’s being to the core. By experiencing the true horrors of war, Richie comes to see that the world is hardly a measure of black and white. Ambiguity of life aside, Richie also struggles with questions of morality and the usefulness of the Vietnam War and war in general. After dealing with officers concerned more with promotions than the safety of their men, Richie is injured and sent to a hospital where he garners a new appreciation for the terrible events he has experienced. Sent back to his old unit, he must deal with a racist squad leader and eventually comes face to face with the Vietcong in a brutal firefight.

Walter Dean Myers’s book is a captivatingly honest portrayal of young soldiers during the Vietnam War. The reader first meets Richie as a naïve child, then experiences his forced and painful transformation into an adult through the fires of warfare. Richie endures the constant state of fear while concurrently dealing with questions that plague his conscience. Issues of mortality, racism, privilege, and even humor wrench the reader’s emotions. Myer’s story gives humane insight into the minds and personal characteristics of those depicted.

John Whitt

Myers, Walter Dean. Shooter. New York: HarperTempest, 2004. ISBN 0-06-029519-8. $15.99US/$23.99 CAN. Ages 12 and up.

A tragedy has just occurred in Harrison County. Three lonely, isolated teenagers have been involved in a shooting incident. One is now dead. Another teen at the school is also dead, and several have been wounded. This novel records the findings and interviews compiled by the Harrison County Safety Committee to investigate what led to the event. It contains lengthy interviews with Cameron Porter, an upper-middle-class African American student who is constantly put down by his father and by other students. It reports the results of interviews with Carla, a survivor of molestation drifting through the foster care system. It reveals the diaries of Leonard Gray, the mastermind of the incident, the vibrant, rebellious boy bitter about a lifetime of being bullied and obsessed with enhancing his own power. The Safety Committee faithfully compiles all of these records, along with newspaper reports of the shooting and official recommendations from its members; the reader must sift through all of the evidence and come to his or her own conclusion.

Myers’s novel will clearly appeal to teachers, parents, and teens wishing to discuss the various incidents of school violence in the news in the last decade. The quasi-documentary form works very well here; Myers convincingly presents a number of different perspectives and consistently requires the reader to revise his or her assessments of characters as the main events get revisited and contradicted. The novel provides a great deal of material for meaty and nuanced discussions of topics such as bullying, social influence, and personal versus institutional responsibilities.

Naomi Lesley

Myers, Walter Dean. Sunrise Over Fallujah. New York: Scholastic Press, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-439-9164-0. $17.99 US/$19.99 CAN. Ages 12-15.

Robin Perry could have gone straight from high school to his freshman year of college, the way his father really wanted. Instead, he felt so bad after 9/11 that he signed up for the Army instead, just in time to be posted to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom. There’s a lot about Army life that Robin likes; he likes his immediate superior, Captain Coles; he respects the compassionate and thoughtful medic, Captain Miller, and he enjoys his camaraderie with his team, tough and witty Marla and canny blues musician Jonesy. For the most part, as he writes to his favorite Uncle Richie, he believes in his mission, even when he can sense disorganization in the upper ranks.

However, as Operation Iraqi Freedom continues, Robin (or “Birdy,” as he comes to be nicknamed) cannot help but notice that the fall of Saddam Hussein has unleashed a host of new problems, and that despite his and his teammates’ best intentions, they seem to be constantly having to choose between killing innocents and being killed themselves. Soon, Robin not only fears ordinary Iraqis, he also fears himself and his own reactions.

This novel is a loose sequel to Fallen Angels, Myers’ historical novel about Vietnam, in the sense that Richie reappears as Robin’s uncle and Robin is clearly influenced by Richie’s stories of the Vietnam War. However, it stands alone as an effective piece of storytelling. Sunrise Over Fallujah might have been a topical polemic, but it is not. Myers attends to the details of human interactions between his characters, and he has done his research on the dynamics of war. Robin and his teammates are fleshed out characters, with personalities and lives beyond their identities as soldiers, and the problems and complexities of the Iraq War are rendered fairly and thoughtfully.

Sunrise Over Fallujah is a fine young adult novel, worth reading either in a classroom setting or for pleasure. I highly recommend this book.

Naomi Lesley

Napoli, Donna Jo. Hush: An Irish Princess’ Tale. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Adults, 2007. ISBN 0-689-86176-1. $16.99. 309pp.

Though it is a tale of princesses, Donna Jo Napoli’s latest work Hush is a raw and brutal journey that takes the reader far beyond the comfort and safety of a fairy tale happily ever after. Based on an ancient Icelandic saga of the Laxardal people, the first-person narrative opens in 900A.D. to reveal a spoiled and haughty Melkorka exploring Dublin for the first time. While she covets the beautiful brooches on display, her brother loses his hand in a freak accident, and a series of events are put in motion for revenge. Unfortunately, not all plans go as expected, and the impetuous Melkorka and her younger sister Brigid are captured by slave traders as they flee the palace. Remembering her sister’s lesson on silence when communicating with animals, Melkorka discovers that it is precisely that silence which lends her power on the Viking barge. Indeed, when their attempts to break her hush are foiled, her captors fear she is an enchantress, enabling her to act beyond the normal capacity of slaves. Melkorka grows and matures whilst on the ship, learning compassion, the Viking language, and healing skills. Despite all this, however, she remains always a slave; traded, robbed of everything, and surrounded by horrors that shatter the formerly sheltered existence she had taken for granted.

This is a breathtakingly beautiful novel, yet it is a haunting beauty. Napoli’s skill lies in her evocative language that allows the cold to creep into your bones as you read, and hunger to gnaw at your belly. She does not shy away from the horrific reality of life on a slave ship; indeed, there are moments of gang rape, murder, and cruelty that though not explicitly graphic in nature, are definitely harrowing. Melkorka’s experience leaves the reader captivated, amazed at her strength and resilience, and hungry for more information as the narrative closes. Hush leaves the reader with a profound sense of emotional exhaustion, but does not allow for the luxury of a neatly packaged ending. Of this, Donna Jo Napoli says:

One of the jobs of life is learning how to give up on some things and move on . . .
as readers we should not have to be satisfied, to have every question answered. If
a book does that, it's leaving you unprepared, leaving you undefended.

A powerful and poignant novel. Highly Recommended.

Ellen Nef

Pierce, Tamora. Beka Cooper: Terrier. New York: Random House, 2006. ISBN 978-0-375-81468-6. $18.95. Ages 14 and up. 563 pp.

Terrier is the first book in a new series by Tamora Pierce. Yet, while it is new series, it is the fifteenth book of Pierce’s to be set in her fantasy world of the Tortall Universe. It precedes the other Tortall books by about 200 years. It is about a teenage girl of about 16 or 17, named Rebekah Cooper, who is training to be a Dog, which is slang for one of the Provost’s guards. The Provost’s guards are like policemen. She asks to work in the Lower City of Corus, the capital city of Tortall. It is where she grew up. The Lower City is like the inner city, the place where the poor live and the place where the most crime takes place. But Beka’s world is different than ours; it is a world full of magic. Beka is assigned to train and work with two Senior Dogs named Clary and Mattes, who are loathe to take her on at first, but Beka proves her worth. Beka has a gift in which she can hear the voices of unhappy ghosts who are carried to the afterlife by pigeons. Using this gift, Beka learns about two horrible crime waves that are leading to the deaths and fear of a lot of the Lower City’s citizens. It is up to Beka and her Dog partners now to uncovers the leaders of these two operations and prevent more people from dying unnecessary deaths.

This is the first book of Tamora Pierce’s that I have read. As a reader that was not familiar with the Tortall world at first, some of the language, terminology and slang of this world was confusing, but Pierce does a good job of introducing her readers to her world. The book is written in the fashion of a journal with Beka narrating the events of her days in first person.

This is a fascinating world and story full of adventure. It moves very quickly. It is an action packed book full of fantasy, magic, mystery, and suspense. It is definitely a book for older readers as it contains more adult themes regarding relationships between men and women, as well as the fine line between being a good guy and a crook. Beka makes friends with some people from the other side of the law and she and her partners end up working closely with them.

I enjoyed this book a lot and would recommend it to readers who are lovers of fantasy.

Joyce Ho

Pierce, Tamora. Melting Stones. New York: Scholastic, 2008. ISBN 978-0-545-05264-1. $17.99 U.S./ $19.99 CAN. Hardback. Ages 14-18.

This companion novel to The Circle of Magic Quartet and The Circle Opens Quartet is an expert mixture of mystery, drama, fantasy, social issues, and a touch of humor in the right places as only Tamora Pierce can write it.

Fourteen-year-old stone mage Evvy, short for Evumeimei, is not a happy person. She would rather be home at Winding Circle instead of traveling with Dedicate Rosethorn, the generally cranky green mage, and the stuffy know-it-all water mage Dedicate Myrrhtide (or as Evvy calls him Dedicate Fusspot). On this journey, the mages are headed for the Island of Starns where bodies of water have become acidic and plants have been mysteriously dying.

By accident Evvy discovers that the damage is being caused by volcano spirits who are desperately trying to find an exit out of their dormant home. But even after Evvy finds out what’s causing the environmental damage, the mages’ struggles continue as they try to convince the local skeptics of the looming danger and try to help the other islanders prepare to leave their homes for safety and the unknown. In addition, Evvy must face her own personal demons. Before finding a home at Winding Circle, Evvy was an emperor’s slave and she still carries bitterness in her heart from that. In their ignorance some of the islanders look on the mages with contempt and hatred, not only because the mages are outsiders but because they represent wealth and privilege, which in Evvy’s mind is only more proof that people are nasty at heart. Her compassion and humanity are tested: will she help these people who desperately need her despite their and her resistance? Furthermore, will she be willing to accept and return the friendship that some of the people of Starns offer her?

In Melting Stones, Pierce includes the class issues that are a part of The Circle of Magic universe: nature magic vs. academic magic, life experience vs. education, and rich vs. poor, but she also includes an examination of suffering. How is it possible to suffer deeply at the hands of other human beings and yet not be completely consumed by hatred for people? Pierce keeps it honest; it’s bloody hard not to hate people sometimes. Despite that, though, we have to move beyond the suffering so that we can do something decent with our lives and be open to the genuinely good people in the world. Pierce doesn’t preach; rather, she encourages readers to examine class structures, our relationships with others, and our preconceived ideas about certain groups of people. It is this kind of critical analysis that is the hallmark of the best science fiction and fantasy.

Marie Soriano

Pratchett, Terry. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2001. ISBN 978-0-06-001235-9. $6.99 U.S.
ALA Best Book for Young Adults; ALA Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults; Book Sense Pick; Carnegie Medal; New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age; VOYA Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror.

This exceptional work of Young Adult Fiction humorously reimagines the tale of the Pied Piper crossed with The Adventures of Pinocchio, The Velveteen Rabbit, and even, one of my favorite cartoons from the ‘80s, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The protagonists of Pratchett’s text – a tomcat called The Amazing Maurice, and a pack of rats – live near the wizard’s dump (did I mention this is also a work of fantasy?). Secondary characters include a “stupid looking kid with a flute,” Keith, and a strange young girl named Malicia who dresses in black. Malicia is the Mayor’s daughter, as well as the granddaughter and grandniece of the “Sisters Grim” – Agonista and Eviscera – authors of fairy tales. (This is an obvious allusion to the Brothers Grimm, who collected, edited, and rewrote German folktales, many of which are still popular with both children and adults today. Unlike the Brothers Grimm, who toned down the folktales they collected to fit their ideas of what would be more appropriate for children, Malicia – a child – constantly seeks to create exciting and dangerous stories out of the events of her life.)

The rats have names such as Dangerous Beans, Darktan, Delicious, and Peaches – all of which are the result of the rodents reading the labels of the trash they found at the dump (prior to understanding what the words mean). Maurice and the rats refer to themselves as Changelings, because for some reason (which I won’t spoil), they suddenly gain human-like consciousness. But once they consider themselves “people” – different from the “stupid” animals – Maurice and the rats find that acting like animals just isn’t working for them anymore.

As the title of this book implies, the cat generally runs the show (as cats are known to do). Maurice is the ringleader that convinces Keith and the rats to work with him in his pied piper-esque cons, which involve the rats “stealing grains and cheese and gnawing holes in walls” as they travel from town. After the rats “plague” the selected city with their presence, the boy arrives and plays his flute, leads the rats away – for a price, and then Maurice, Keith, and the rats meet up afterward to split their profits.

At the close of Pratchett’s first chapter, the rats have decided that they no longer want to participate in this “unethical” practice, and declare that this will be the “last time” they pretend to be the “plague of rats” in Maurice’s pied piper stunt. But when this unlikely camaraderie enter the town of Bad Blintz, they encounter some menacing competition in swindling the townspeople. Maurice, Keith and the rats – with help from Malicia – not only free the town from the dark powers that have enslaved it, but the rats even find a way to live in peace with the humans.

In addition to embedding messages of peace and equality in a story about a con-cat and a bunch of rats, Pratchett even throws in some references to philosophy and religion. The animals discuss the meaning of life and death, the significance of the light and the dark. And the epigraph beginning each chapter gives an excerpt from Mr. Bunnsy Has an Adventure, an imaginary work of Children’s Literature to which the Rats reverently refer throughout Pratchett’s novel. These epigraphs are a parody combining the classic Children’s Literature works Peter Rabbit and The Wind in the Willows which Pratchett inserts in order to emphasize another point made in his text: even fictional stories (and specifically, even fiction written for children) can be useful.

After reading this book, I can see why it won so many awards. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is, well, amazing. To put it shortly, I absolutely loved this book. The Amazing Maurice is set in Pratchett’s imaginary land of Disc World (as are several dozen of his other books). Though I have been a fan of Pratchett’s work (especially Good Omens, co-authored by Neil Gaiman) since I was a teenager myself, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents is now my undisputed favorite.

Highly Recommended.

Emily Moore

Pullman, Philip. The Ruby in the Smoke: A Sally Lockhart Mystery. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985. ISBN 978-0-375-84516-1. $7.99. Ages 13 and up.

Sixteen-year-old Sally Lockhart has just come down in the world. Her father has vanished, sunk in a mysterious shipwreck, and his business turns out to be in much worse shape than anyone had suspected. Some anonymous friends of Sally’s, as it turns out, suspect a great deal of foul play, and they send her letters which set her off on a quest to solve the mystery of what really happened to her father and his business. In her adventures around London of the late 1870’s, Sally learns about the dark secrets of the opium trade, tracks down retired officers involved in the Sepoy Rebellion, and flees from her pursuers by taking refuge with a friendly photographer and his actress sister.

In the process, of course, the reader also learns several tidbits of history concerning life in Victorian London and British imperialism. This is a well-written historical mystery with the emphasis on the mystery; the plot is fast-paced, the characterization is lively, and the historical background adds to the interest rather than interfering with the story. The reading level of this book is fairly high for young readers. However, teenagers bitten by the mystery novel bug will love it, and they will be able to look forward to three more novels in the series.

Naomi Lesley

Pullman, Philip. The Shadow in the North: A Sally Lockhart Mystery. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986. ISBN 978-0-375-84515-4. $7.99. Ages 13 and up.

Sally is an unusual young lady by the standards of Victorian London. Her education has consisted mainly of learning military history and target practice, she runs her own financial advice business, and she refuses to marry her longtime admirer and friend, photographer Frederick Wentworth. Fred is also a private investigator. He is approached by a shady music-hall magician who fears he is being targeted for murder. At the same time, Sally discovers that one of her clients has lost all of her investments in a suspect business collapse. When the two begin investigating their cases, they discover a series of links that lead to a sinister political network and to a frightening new development in weaponry.

This second novel in the Sally Lockhart series is darker than the first; Sally begins to suffer serious consequences for her unconventionality, and Pullman deals with heavier social and political issues than mysteries generally approach. The story is fast-paced and action-packed, but this is not entirely a light and fluffy book for beach reading.

To offset the lack of a feel-good ending (if that is a deficit), the characters in this novel are complex and sympathetic, and the writing is characteristically convincing and engaging. Readers can enjoy this book without having read the first one of the series. Teenagers of high school age and adults are the most likely audience for this book.

Naomi Lesley

Satrapi, Marjane. Chicken With Plums. New York: Pantheon Books, 2006. 0-375-42415-6. $ 16.95. 84 pages. Age: Young Adults

Marjane Satrapi, the author of Persepolis, turns her captivating and humorous vision to the poignant story of a famous musician in her graphic novel Chicken with Plums. The story begins in 1958, Tehran. Nasser Ali Khan, who discovers that his broken Tar cannot be repaired, desperately goes to different music shops in search of a replacement. Nasser Ali even travels to Northern Iran to find a one-of-a-kind instrument, but soon realizes that no other Tar speaks to him with the same love and passion as his own. He renounces life and his family all together, and decides to die. Even Nasser Ali’s charming daughter, Farzaneh, cannot bring him out of despair. His wife, Nahid , and his reunion fails to motivate Nasser Ali, and instead recalls the bitter memories of his childhood, when his mother would constantly compare him to his brother. This flash back sets the tone for the return of the old and permanent scars that continue to haunt Nasser Ali at his deathbed. Having broken his Tar, Nahid cooks Nasser Ali’s favorite food, Chicken with Plums, to regain his heart. However, the image of the broken Tar keeps coming between them, as Nasser Ali shuts the door on his wife’s plea for love and forgiveness. It takes eight days, from the day Nasser Ali decides to die until the day that death finally comes to him. Every day is replete with flash-backs and flash-forwards that articulate the profundity of his pain and decision. Through death, Nasser Ali battles all the forces that had taken away his voice throughout his life, and finally tells his own compelling story.

Chicken with Plums renders the events of Nasser Ali’s life into a humorous, captivating, and heartbreaking tale. The graphic novel depicts the everlasting scars left by parental favoritism, while subtly criticizing the destructive effects of social conventions. Chicken with Plums is a revolutionary and compelling story.

Aria Fani

Satrapi, Marjan. Embroideries. New York: Pantheon Books, 2005. ISBN 0-375-71467-7. $ 10.95. 140 pages. Age: Young Adults and up.

Satrapi deals with taboo subjects in Persepolis and Chicken With Plums, but in Embroideries she pushes the envelope even further. She employs humor as a tool of choice for opening those cultural doors that would otherwise be too heavy to budge. Embroideries scrutinizes dusty values and traditions such as “chastity and virtue,” that have strapped women to the wheel of patriarchy. Embroideries takes us into the sex lives of Iranian women through their stories. After the evening of story-telling progresses, tea is served and several vibrant women gather around to tell their secrets, hopes, fears and regrets. Their stories vary from early marriages, keeping up appearances, faking one’s virginity, to avoiding an arranged marriage.

They are outrageous, heartbreaking, and humorous. They listen to each other as a method of facing and healing trauma. Their stories not only reveal their vulnerabilities and predicaments, but also humanize them. Their storytelling is a break from the patriarchal world, absolutely vital to their survival. Satrapi depicts the lives of Iranian women, behind their veils, and brings down the cultural divide between women in the world. Whether they are in Hijab, Burqa, or bikini, women everywhere face and challenge the destructive effects of patriarchy on a daily basis.

Aria Fani

Schumacher, Julie. Black Box. New York: Delacorte Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-385-73542-1. $15.99 US/$18.99 CAN. Ages 12 and up.

This novel movingly portrays the effects of depression on a family, through the eyes of the resilient younger sister. Elena is a dependable, stoic, responsible freshman in high school, quite the opposite of her beloved older sister Dora, who is sociable and funny. When Dora goes into a deep depression and becomes suicidal, she has to be hospitalized, and Elena’s family begins to deteriorate from the strain. From a classmate at school with prior experience of the mental health system, Elena learns that the hospital where her sister has been placed gives substandard care; however, her parents are too frightened and preoccupied to listen to her.

When Dora returns home, the situation worsens. Elena feels a responsibility to protect her sister, but as Dora begins to slide back into depression, Elena does not know how best to help her. In the meantime, she is having a hard time coping with her own feelings of loss and confusion.

In an author’s note, Schumacher notes that the novel is meant to raise awareness about depression and to dispel some of the stigma associated with mental illness. Black Box paints a very realistic and complex picture of many of the problems associated with depression; she shows both the horror of bad mental health treatment and also the results of no treatment, and she traces the ways in which depression can become a family illness. At the same time, Black Box does not read like a problem novel, with flat characters and a heavy-handed approach to a current issue. Schumacher’s characters are subtly drawn, and the narrative voice is convincing and readable.

This is an excellent and thought-provoking novel for young adults, worth reading both for the issues addressed and for the characterizations.

Naomi Lesley

Scott, Michael. The Alchemyst (Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel.) Delacorte Books for Young Readers , 2007. ISBN-13 978-0385733571. $16.99

Any hardcore Harry Potter fan will recognize the name Nicholas Flamel, but Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone did not prepare us for this break-neck fantasy adventure played out on the stage of modern day California that Michael Scott has created. Josh and Sophie are twins, working in San Francisco while their eccentric parents are on their latest archaeological dig in the back ends of nowhere. Their average lives however are about to change when a mysterious man and his Golems walk into Nick Fleming’s book store and begin hurling magic around.

Nick Fleming aka. Nicholas Flamel, and his wife Perenelle , have an incredible secret: they are centuries old, and possessors of one of the greatest secrets on the globe—the Abraham codex—the text that teaches how to turn metal into Gold, as well as the intricate recipe for eternal youth. When necromancer and Elizabethan court favourite John Dee steals the codex however, Josh and Sophie find themselves in the center of an exciting and terrifying glimpse into the histories, prophecies, and truths of legend, myth and stark reality; discovering also to their horror that they need to awaken the magical potential locked deep inside them in order to protect a world only they can save.

Scott weaves an intricate and exhilarating blend of fantasy, myth, and legend in order to write a new historical reality that his modern day world has largely learnt to ignore. This is the first in a series that is destined to be popular; the first book since the end of Harry Potter that has had me turning pages in breathless anticipation.

Highly Recommended.

Ellen Nef

Selzer, Adam. I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It. New York: Delacorte Press, 2010. ISBN 0-385-73503-2 $7.99. Ages 12 and up.

Vampires have dominated movie theaters and bookstores lately, so it’s no surprise that they’re the most popular students at Alley’s high school. Alley has a quick wit, a refined taste in music, and doesn’t want to tie herself down before she leaves town for college. So it’s just her luck when she meets a boy at a concert. Doug is dark and intriguing with his goth make-up but catches Alley’s eyes when he plays a couple of her favorite songs on stage. Alley quickly becomes infatuated. Sure, Doug always wears the same clothes, smells kind of funny, and is never without makeup, but he has impeccable taste in music, is a gentleman, and is very attractive.

Oh, and he’s been dead for four years.

As the unwitting girlfriend of a zombie, Alley finds herself in an awkward situation. She considers changing her college plans so she can stay close to Doug and starts to wonder if she should “convert” to being a zombie to strengthen her relationship. Unfortunately, this requires dying.

Light and funny, full of action and dilemmas that are more familiar than they seem, Alley’s final months of high school show how intense young love can be and provide a cautionary tale in an easily digestible package.

Fran Merlie

Ursu, Anne. The Cronus Chronicles, Book One: The Shadow Thieves. New York: Atheneum, 2006. ISBN 1-4169-0587-1. $16.95 U.S./ $23.50 CAN. Ages 8-12.

What if the Greek myths weren’t just myths? Twelve-year-old Charlotte Mielswetski, pronounced Meals-wet-ski, finds out the answer to that question in this fantasy novel that gives you the chills and makes you laugh out loud.

It all begins when her cousin Zee arrives from England. His father, Charlotte’s uncle, says his family plans to transfer back to the States, and Zee is going on ahead of his parents. Seems like a likely story. The Mielswetskis give him a room in their house and Charlotte tries to be as friendly as an angst-ridden tween can be, showing him around the prep school and introducing him to everyone in their grade.

Soon after his arrival the kids at the school begin to fall mysteriously ill. Zee confesses that the mysterious illness befell his friends in England, too, and the real reason why his parents sent him to the Mielswetskis was to protect him.

Together the kids decide to investigate the matter themselves, and so they pay Charlotte’s sick friend a visit. They find her lying in bed, with barely enough energy to speak, as if the life has been drained from her. When they turn on the lamp, they discover she has no shadow. They leave puzzled and afraid. As they walk home, Charlotte and Zee are attacked by creepy men-like creatures in tuxedoes. (Yes, tuxedoes.) At that moment, life throws them yet another surprise: their enigmatic and stern English teacher pulls up in his car to save them.

Enter Mr. Metos, English teacher at the prep school and ancestor of Prometheus, a Titan in charge of protecting humanity from the gods’ carelessness. Mr. Metos explains that not all is well in the Greek Underworld. Philonecron, born in the Underworld to one of Poseidon’s daughters and “one of the demons who staffed the employee mud spa,” has decided that he wants to rule (Ursu 123). But, he needs an army to overthrow Hades, God of the Underworld who has become a complacent bureaucrat. (Yes, a bureaucrat.) Philonecron’s solution: steal the shadows from children and replicate them to create an army of his own. This is the illness striking the kids; their shadows which contain their souls have been stolen. The creepy men who attacked Charlotte and Zee were Philonecron’s Footment, created from the Underworld’s clay.

Where exactly do Zee and Charlotte fall into this? Well, Philonecron got his army idea from seeing how loose Zee’s shadow is. Children’s shadows are loose because their selves aren’t fully formed yet. Now he wants Zee’s blood for a spell to bring the shadows to life.

Mr. Metos tells the two to do nothing; he will take care of everything. But then the young heroes are lured by Philonecron to the Underworld where they find the captured Mr. Metos chained to a rock wall to have his regenerating liver eaten by Harpies. How will the kids ever rescue the shadows and foil Philonecron’s plans?

Anne Ursu brings new life and a sense of humor to ancient Greek myths. You don’t need to know any Greek mythology prior to reading this novel. Ursu smartly works in mythological backstory, so you are never confused. If you are familiar with Greek myths, I think you’ll get a kick out of Ursu’s re-visioning. Think Dorothy Parker meets Ray Bradbury. You have chapters with alternating points of view all told by one dry-witted narrator. The descriptions of the Greek mythical creatures are creepy and yet you can’t help but laugh even as you’re getting goose bumps.

Cheers to Anne Ursu’s first book for kids and hopefully the beginning of many more in the Cronus Chronicles.

Illustrator Eric Fortune does another beautiful job combining the funny and terrifying, as he did for Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow. He uses shadow and light as well as the exaggeration of features to great effect. Sadly, the illustrations only appear on the first page of each chapter, and they are only about four inches by four inches, but it’s amazing how much detail Fortune fits into each picture. His rendering of the Footmen will give you chills. The pictures of the young protagonists don’t have that creepy-funny quality, but they do look the way Ursu has written them, which is satisfying.

Marie Soriano

Vidal, Clara. Like a Thorn. Y. Maudet, trans. New York: Delacorte Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-385-73564-3. US $14.99. Ages 14 and up.

When she was younger, Melie used to imagine that she had two mothers instead of one—Rosy Mother was like the good queen in fairy tales, and Dark Mother was like the evil witch. As far as anyone else can tell, her mother is Rosy Mother all the time; she is pretty and talented and appears to love Melie very much. But Melie knows better. She knows that sometimes her mother’s pretty hands turn into talons and that sometimes her mother gives her broken, damaged gifts just to humiliate her. She knows that her mother doesn’t really want her around.

Melie used to invent little games and rituals to bring Rosy Mother back. She invented counting games, prayers, and patterns of walking that she used to hope would keep the Dark Mother away. But as she gets older, Melie realizes her games aren’t working. Her mother is cruel more and more often, and, in the meantime, Melie can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t talk or laugh, and can’t stop performing her rituals. If she doesn’t find someone who will listen to her, she knows she’ll never be able to grow up and escape from her mother.

Melie’s growing depression and fear of her mother are narrated in the third person, putting the reader at a helpless distance and making her downward spiral even more terrifying. The plot is fast-paced, capturing the interactions between mother and daughter with a few telling details and scenes. This novel combines the genres of fairy tale and teen problem novel; teenaged girls are likely to avidly follow Melie’s descent into mental illness as they gleefully blame her wicked (step)mother for the family’s dysfunction. This novel is not a realistic portrayal of mental illness, but it is an enjoyable and compelling read calculated to appeal to a teenaged audience.

Naomi Lesley

Ward, Rachel. Num8ers. New York: Scholastic, 2010. ISBN 978-0-545-14299-1. Ages: 13 and up.

Num8ers is a teen fiction devoted to a girl with a rather unusual gift, or curse. Whenever she looks into another person’s eyes she perceives a number. For her mother, the number was 10102001. Her mother died of an overdose on 10/10/2001. Jem’s life, forever after, changed. Her schoolmates consider her to be different, strange. She is quiet, reclusive, and forever avoiding people’s eyes, and their lives. She doesn’t want to be involved; she believes she already knows more about them than she wants to. She wants to avoid loss, avoid change, avoid the very thing she is most used to as a foster child, loss. She knows that people will eventually leave, whether willingly or forcefully, and believes by being alone, separate, she can avoid the feeling that accompanies her loss. But, despite her attempt to avoid people, avoid the world, she gets dragged into it, into the lives of others, and suddenly finds herself unable to keep separate, even from people she believes, knows even, that she is going to lose.

Num8ers is about living life even in the face of certain mortality. It is about the necessity of actually living and not avoiding life. It is a powerful novel about faith, life, and death, and shows how even in the face of dire certainty the most important things in life, like love, faith, and happiness can still be found.

Num8ers is a text well worth reading.

Sean Printz

Yang, Gene. American Born Chinese. Illus. Lark Pien. New York: Roaring Book Press-First Second Books, 2006. ISBN: 1-59643-152-0. $14.95. 240 pages. Young Adults.
2007 Michael L. Printz Award Winner. National Book Awards Finalist.

Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese is a graphic novel. It begins with three seemingly different tales, all thematically connected via the search for identity. The little Monkey masters the arts of kung-fu and takes on the role of a king among other monkeys. The Monkey King’s self-image is shattered when is denied to attend a celestial party, merely for what he is, a monkey. He continues to strengthen his physique and abandons his identity as a monkey by wearing shoes and changing his eating habits. He is reprimanded by his creator and doomed to stay beneath a rock of mountain. The Monkey King eventually decides to serve an emissary on a mystical journey to the West. In the second tale, Jin Wang, a second generation Chinese-American, is profoundly unsettled at his new school, where he is constantly bullied and mocked. The arrival of Wei-Chen Sun, a new student from Taiwan, gradually fills Jin’s loneliness. Through his common history and shared experiences with Wei-Chen, Jin gains more confidence and expresses his interest in the white girl Amelia. Jin takes Amelia out, while Wei-Chen and Suzy date. But Jin is cornered by Amelia’s friend, who is concerned Jin is not the “right” person for her. Having been thus humiliated, Jin does the same to Wei-Chen by moving in on Suzy, which marks the end of Jin’s friendship with Wei-Chen. The last story is about Chin-Kee, a stereotypical Chinese character, who visits his cousin Danny. Chin-Kee’s strange attitude in school, his accented English, and his eagerness to answer all the questions in class leave Danny abashed. Danny feels that everyone alienates him when Chin-Kee is around. Danny is fed up with Chin-Kee at last, and starts beating him up. Then, Danny is shocked to see that Chin-Kee is nothing more than a mask (the stereotypes that he had made up himself), and the real character behind Chin-Kee is the Monkey King in disguise. The Monkey King shares with Danny that his son is Wei-Chen, Danny’s old classmate, upon which Danny’s “true form” is also revealed as none other than Jin Wang.

The Monkey King tells Jin that he would have avoided “five hundred years’ imprisonment beneath a mountain of rock” had he known “how good it is to be a monkey. Having served Jin as his “conscience and signpost to [his] soul,” the Monkey King inspires him to return to his roots, and embrace his heritage. Jin is reunited with Wei-Chen at a Chinese bakery. They resolve their differences and become friends once more.
Gene Luen Yang brilliantly combines a legendary folk tale well known to almost all Asians—the Monkey King and the Journey to the West, with a modern story of second-generation immigrants in America, to depict the profound and inward journey of identity.

Aria Fani

Zusak, Markus. I Am the Messenger. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2006. ISBN-10: 0375836675. Ages 12 and up. (Originally published as Messenger in Australia, 2002.)

Nineteen-year-old Ed Kennedy, an under-aged cab-driver in Australia, never really thought much of himself. He has no real aspirations (other than to hang out playing cards with his friends), his mother is less than loving towards him, and his coffee-addicted dog stinks beyond belief.

Then Ed foils a bank robbery.

Soon after his unwitting act of heroism, the first ace arrives in the mail. Ed faces a challenge: ignore the card and continue his mediocre-but-safe existence or take the gamble and become the messenger.
Zusak is a masterful storyteller. Do not begin this book unless you have time to finish it in one sitting! Ed Kennedy, a true underdog, shows us how even the smallest acts of kindness affect people in a big way.

*One note of warning: This book does contain some violent situations and strong language.

Highly recommended

Kimberly Kennelly

 

 

San Diego State University Homepage English and Comparative Literature Homepage