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On the Cusp

Wed, 2014-08-20 07:11

High school is behind you, but you’re not quite an independent adult. Today’s reviews cover one book of essays and stories written during–and one graphic novel memoir written about–the college years.

Marina Keegan was a talented writer who died days after graduating from Yale. She had lined up a position as an editorial assistant at The New Yorker and was on her way toward a literary career. The Opposite of Loneliness is a collection of her writing, some of it originally published in the Yale Daily News.

Keegan was perhaps best known for fighting against the Wall Street recruiting machine that gathered up nearly a quarter of Yale graduates each year. She feared that the lure of money was derailing talented young people from following their passions, and she expressed that fear in her essay Even Artichokes Have Doubts, which is included in the collection.

Over Easy is a lightly fictionalized memoir of a life-changing period in Mimi Pond‘s youth. She was in art school but had run out of money, so she dropped out and got a real job–washing dishes in a diner in Oakland in the early ’70s. Pond is a cartoonist and humor writer. In addition to books, she has written for TV, including The Simpsons.

KEEGAN, Marina. The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories. 208p. Scribner. Apr. 2014. Tr $23. ISBN 9781476753614. LC 2013030131.  

Fans of HBO’s Girls will find a kindred spirit in the person of Marina Keegan. Sadly, this book, a collection of short stories and essays written before she turned 22, will likely be her only, as she was killed in a car crash just five days after graduating college. There is a sense of melancholy in most of the stories, of having to leave your youth behind and not feeling ready to join adulthood. Multiply that melancholia exponentially when you realize Keegan never got to experience adulthood herself. The very first entry is about a girl and the guy she is dating. They’ve never really defined their relationship and it was getting a little rocky when he dies in an accident. At the funeral, does she identify as his girlfriend or was she just a hookup that lasted too long? Even the two stories about women in middle age dealing with aging are still accessible to teen readers who can easily relate to underlying feelings of undesirability or being left behind. The last essay talks about how Marina would like to tell the universe “Here I am” before she dies. Though bittersweet, this collection accomplishes that feat and displays the talent she had to offer before her sad demise.—Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

POND, Mimi. Over Easy. illus. by Mimi Pond. 271p. Drawn & Quarterly. Apr. 2014. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781770461536. LC 2013464704.  

As a spectator, Madge admired the waitresses at the Imperial Café, “no-shit gals with names like Bea and Myrna, women who know about real life.” When Madge’s bank account runs out, the listless art school student sets aside her pencils and sketchbooks and dons an apron and order pad. The quirky diner staff and regulars she once spied on and sketched take on dimension as she gets to know them from the other side of the counter. Pond’s hazy green palette evokes the dreamy, aimless California of the 1970s. Her illustrations are unassuming but at times convey realism; readers will feel the grime on Madge’s hands as she wrestles to clean the Imperial’s unwieldy rubber floor mats. The graphic novelist’s narrative takes place in the middle territory after the age of the hippie fizzled but before the angry punk movement congealed. “The 60’s had been so exciting,” the protagonist reminisces, “but now the war was over and everyone was just treading bong water.” Despite the historical context, today’s young adults will sympathize with Madge, who feels she’s been dealt a bad hand by being born at a wrong time. Older teens about to accept the responsibilities of young adult life are sure to connect with the leap Madge makes from passive observer to active participant.—Rachael Myers-Ricker, Horace Mann School, NY

Categories: Library News

Two Books About Black Youth in America

Mon, 2014-08-18 07:00

Reading the titles of the books under review–a book about football, and a book about juvenile prisons–a lot of people would not immediately think that they are related, or that either has much to do with race in America. But both authors make persuasive cases that racism, specifically against young Black men is at the heart of their subject.

The more obvious case is that of juvenile prison. Nell Bernstein outlines the case in her introduction:

Juvenile incarceration is also one of the most glaring examples of racism injustice our nation has to offer. Studies based on confidential interviews have found that the vast majority of Americans go through a period of delinquency at some point during adolescence. Fully 80 to 90 percent of American teenagers have committed an illegal act that could qualify them for time behind bars, and one-third of all teens have committed a serious crime. Most, however, never see the inside of a cell, or even a police car. Of this group–the kids who get a pass–the overwhelming majority simply grow out of it. But the time they reach adulthood they are crime-free.

Black and brown youth, especially those from impoverished communities, face far different prospects than do their white counterparts on this front. Those living in poor neighborhoods are subject to what sociologist Victor Rios calls a “culture of control”–treated with suspicion and harsh discipline at school, on the street, and even in the community. They also face discrimination at every stop on the juvenile and criminal justice circuits. They are more likely than white youth who commit identical acts to be arrested; to be charged and detained rather than released to their families; to be sentenced to locked institutions; to be kept behind bars longer; and to be sent back more often. . . . These cascading inequities dramatically curtail the prospects of young people who are already at a disadvantage when it comes to educational and employment opportunities that serve as the bridge to secure and successful adulthood. (pp. 8-9)

Visiting some of these poor neighborhoods that Bernstein is describing, Steve Almond, author of Against Football, makes some very similar comments:

Their teachers saw them mostly as discipline problems. They had no positive male figures in their lives, no power in the world, no idea how to acquire any.

So I could understand why they were desperate to join a game that gave them a sense of purpose and direction, that earned them the approval and guidance of respected elders . . . a game that offered them a chance at riches and fame, however remote. They accepted the need to sacrifice. They had to learn strategy, cooperation, how to channel their aggressive impulses, how to evade or defeat the opponent. They understood that the game in question gave people tremendous pleasure, but that it wasn’t economically productive for the local community. And though they preferred not to think about this part, they knew that it came with considerable risks to their health.

Despite all this, some of them still wanted to sell crack cocaine.

Am I now suggesting that football is as bad for the African-American community as crack cocaine?

No.

I’m just making the point that neither is a realistic solution to the crises that poor African-American boys face growing up in this country. In fact, they are distractions from the systemic inequalities that keep such boys locked in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. (ARC, pp 105-106)

In comparing football players to drug dealers, Almond’s point is that football is among the very few limited options available to black youth. And it is not one without consequences. He spends much of the first half of his book detailing the new medical knowledge we have about the damage concussions and sub-concussive hits have on the brain, especially young brains. What’s more, as a form of entertainment, he indicts football fans for becoming complicit in its cult of violence, and (perhaps) for participating in another kind of racism:

Yes, football attracts fans of all races and classes. Yes, players choose to compete and are well paid. But the power dynamics remain eerily familiar: a wealthy white “owner” presides over a group of African-American laborers.

. . .

Does football provide white Americans a continued sense of dominion over African American men? Do their huge salaries give us the right to pass judgment on them incessantly? To call up radio programs and yell about how they’re lazy or money-hungry or thuggish? Do we secretly believe they belong to us?

. . .

What does it mean that 95 percent of our most famous African American citizens are athletes? Or that, when we see a physically imposing African American in the lobby of a fancy hotel . . . we immediately think: football player.

I’m going to get hammered for asking these questions. Fine. Hammer away. But don’t pretend that’s the same as answering.  (pp 112-113)

That last sentence is perhaps the most important one in Almond’s book. Throughout the book, he makes provocative claims, not just about racism, but about violence, money, and more, and it is easy for a fan to brush aside his arguments. But brushing them aside, or even acknowledging them, without actually grappling with them, is different from proving him wrong. And that’s a lot harder to do.

Bernstein is similarly provocative in her book. And, like Almond, has much more to discuss than race. Her chapters on the origins of the juvenile prison comprise one of the most fascinating pieces of nonfiction I’ve read this year. And her ultimate goal is similar to Almond’s: abolition. Just as Almond is essentially calling for an end to football, Bernstein is calling for an end to juvenile prison. Neither one of these calls is likely to be heard, and one of the strongest reasons is laid out in the books themselves: the amount of money invested in these two enterprises. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think long and hard about the options our society appears to have set up for young Black men and what we do to participate in these institutions.

* BERNSTEIN, Nell. Burning Down the House: The End of Youth Prison. 319p. Free Press. Jun. 2014. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9781595589569. LC 2013043709.

Bernstein outlines the history of juvenile “reform” schools, the rise and fall of  the rehabilitative model, and the reality of what happens behind bars to already traumatized teens: further physical, sexual, and mental abuse. The author takes a look at solitary confinement practices, “therapeutic prisons,” and juvenile reentry. Using solid teen developmental theory and research, United Nations findings, and trauma informed care, this title articulately sets forth the argument against the imprisonment of children. A passionate advocate for young people, Bernstein highlights teen voices and experiences throughout the book, adding humanity and insight to the statistics. Burning Down the House does for young people what Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (New Press, 2010) did for adults: brings this issue to national attention. Readers meet influential adults such as Jerome Miller, who closed down the entire system in Massachusetts in the ‘70s, and Gladys Carrion, Chief Commissioner of  New York, who not only closed down 18 state facilities by 2012 and halved the number of incarcerated kids, but also diverted $74 million to support community-based alternatives to incarceration. Teens interested in history, social sciences, and one of the biggest issues facing young adults in the U.S. will find lots to love in this book.—Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA

ALMOND, Steve. Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto. 160p. Melville. Aug. 2014. Tr $22.95. ISBN 9781612194158.

Alex Award-winner Almond delivers a provocative if slightly uneven book. As the subtitle suggests, the author is a longtime devoted football fan, and he spends much of the first quarter of the book solidifying his football bona fides before beginning his onslaught of reasons that he feels he can no longer watch his favorite game. Anyone who’s been paying attention to the sport, in particular the NFL, will find little in the way of new arguments here—Almond spends chapters on concussions and sub-concussive hits; the game’s twisted monetary incentives, especially in college football; its cult of violence; racism; and its vexed relationship with the American institutions of capitalism and patriotism. But the sheer weight of the evidence Almond marshals is impressive and hard to ignore. Even when his arguments against the game seem strained, he is able to put the burden of proof squarely back on readers to disprove him with more than a simple dismissal. Particularly strong is his complete demolition of the argument that the mere popularity and fixity of the game in the nation’s consciousness somehow puts it above criticism. Many fans of football will react to this book with derision, and many non-fans will consider his points self-evident: both are wrong. These are arguments that deserve to be considered deeply and grappled with, and teens—who have not yet devoted their lives or opinions to or against the sport—are in a perfect position to take Almond’s  manifesto seriously.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

An Interview With George Pratt

Fri, 2014-08-15 07:00

On Wednesday, we reviewed Above the Dreamless Dead, edited by Chris Duffy, a graphic novel comprised of poems by the Trench Poets of World War I, and illustrated by contemporary graphic novelist.

As promised in that post, today we have an interview with one of the illustrators of that collection, George Pratt. Pratt is a painter and graphic novelist who has drawn for both Marvel and DC. In 1993, he won the prestigious Eisner Award for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist for the Wolverine: Netsuke series.

His first graphic novel, Enemy Ace: War Idyll, was also about World War I: it is an entry in a long running DC series about a fictional WWI pilot. I had a chance to ask Pratt some questions about his involvement with Above the Dreamless Dead over email. My questions, below, are in bold, with Mr. Pratt’s answers in regular type.

Can you tell us how you got involved with this project and how the poems were selected?

I was contacted by Chris Duffy whom I knew through working for Marvel and DC years ago. My interest in the project was totally because of my love for Wilfred Owen’s poetry. I asked Chris if I could work with the Owen material and he agreed. After sending him some work for them to use in their meetings with marketing, etc. He asked me if I’d like to do more than one of the poems. He sent me a list of poems, but I also suggested others and we met in the middle. Then they hit me up to do the cover which I was very happy to do as well.

One of my pet projects would be to illustrate the entire collection of Wilfred Owens poems. Not sequentially, but with single pieces, paintings, printmaking, etc.

In the notes to the book you mention that you’re a long-time fan of Wilfred Owen– were you aware of the other Trench Poets? What is it about Owen specifically that speaks to you?

Yes, I’ve been intimately familiar with many of the different war poets. My introduction to the Great War poets was through my research for my first graphic novel, Enemy Ace: War Idyll. I read so many books for that project, which I wrote and illustrated. Memoirs, histories, books of poetry, etc.

Speaking of Enemy Ace: War Idyll: are there any connections for you between the fictional DC world and the very real world of these poets who were writing at the time of the war?

Enemy Ace: War Idyll came about, curiously enough, through my interest in the Vietnam War. I was terrified of that war as a child. I was born in 1960 and that war was basically the dark backdrop of my childhood. Four or five years longer and I would have had to go. Even though my buddies and I were playing guns in our neighborhoods, the war still scared me. All of our fathers had been in World War II, sailors, infantrymen, bomber and fighter pilots, and we’d dress up in all the old gear and run around “killing” each other.

My father had books on WWII around the house and I was fascinated by it all and read many of those books, though, honestly it was the pictures that drew me to them. During art school I began to research the Vietnam War in order to understand it better for myself. One of the first jobs I got upon leaving school was as an illustrator for Eagle Magazine, a Vietnam Soldier of Fortune thing. There I met Jim Morris, himself a writer and a three-tour Green Beret in Vietnam. He was my editor and I became his pet artist. He gave me enough work to pay my rent and keep me in art supplies each month. He saw how interested I was and one day gave me the opportunity to use the phones and call some of his vet friends from ‘Nam and pick their brains about their experiences. This was about the time that movies about Vietnam began to trickle out.

But I wanted to say something of my own about Vietnam rather than just illustrate others’ stories. So I began to write a story about a Nam vet who had been a tunnel rat. But I felt I needed to be able to compare and contrast that with something else. Enemy Ace popped into my head for some reason or other and that started that ball rolling. In researching WWI I became hooked and haven’t been able to shake it.

Interestingly, Enemy Ace: War Idyll was published right at the beginning of the first Gulf War. I began to get letters from veterans, not only of that war, but from previous wars as well. The book helped them to deal with the things they witnessed. That was incredibly gratifying to hear. The book was translated into nine different languages, saw four American editions and was on the West Point Military Academy’s required reading list.

Does World War I have a particular fascination for you or are the setting of the two projects (War Idyll and Above the Dreamless Dead) coincidental?

I am totally fascinated by WWI, for a lot of different reasons. There’s the power of the subject and all that that encompasses, the breadth of the war, the parties involved, etc. There’s the visual impact of that time period for me. I love the way the uniforms looked, the thick wool and the way it hung on the figures, the clunky design of things and the trenches! Good lord, the trenches! The bleakness and desolate nature of it all. And yet, in reading the poems, the memoirs, etc. there still rises from those who experienced it a grace and unfailing hope for a better future.

World War One has followed me throughout my life, really, though I didn’t notice it at the time. My grandfather on my father’s side was in the First World War. The first piece I learned on the piano was a World War One piece. My English teacher in high school was the model for Howard Chandler Christy’s “I wish I were a man, I’d join the Navy!” poster. Etc.

I was fortunate to get to meet and speak with a veteran from that war when I was working on Enemy Ace: War Idyll. Frank Snell was speaking with a friend of his on a stoop just down the street from my apartment. I had no idea he was a veteran. But walking by one day I overheard them talking about the trenches. I stopped and introduced myself and Frank regaled me with stories of his time in the trenches. He was a machine gunner hooked up with an Australian unit. Machine gunners were the first in and the last out. The life expectancy was something like a week or two. He had been shot and gassed and had lived to tell about it.

I have been working on a World War One opus for quite awhile that I’d like to produce. It would be a serialized story about a young man, following him through his tour of the trenches. I’ve done some paintings for this project, but haven’t begun to do layouts for it. I did have a show of my First World War work in Belgium and France a few years ago. The gallery specifically wanted to do a show of that work and I was glad to have it shown in those two countries.

I was involved in a Romanian documentary about the war that was very interesting. Visiting Romania and walking the battlefield on top of Mount Cosna was amazing. Bullets still littered the site, as well as horseshoes, belt buckles, etc. Crazy.

I’ve also been working on a documentary about Harvey Dunn and his participation in the war, along with other artists. We’ve filmed in the bowels of the Smithsonian, where they have most of the work the Harvey Dunn produced, along with the other 7 artists America sent to the front. We’ve filmed in Ypres, Belgium at the Menin Gate. We’ve hit Polygon Wood, Sanctuary Wood, Dixmüde at the trenches there, as well as at artist Kathe Kollwitz’s son Peter’s grave. We’re still working on it and it’s been a fascinating ride.

I’m very impressed with your illustrations and your decision to make “the words . . . the most important aspect of the adaptation”. Since you weren’t aiming for conventional illustration of the poems’ actions, how did you decide what to draw?

I basically did pieces I felt would capture the futility of the conflict and tried to take it away from specificity or portraiture really. It was such an epic, sweeping war that engulfed so many, many lives that I wanted to touch on that sense of scope. I’m constantly trying to get my students to work at showing more by showing less, boiling down the visual so that the reader has to be an active participant rather than along for the ride. So I tried to work that in there as well.

Have you gotten a chance to read the rest of the book? Do you have any thoughts on how your fellow artists illustrated their poems?

I have not yet read the rest of the book but am excited to do so. I’m anxiously awaiting my copies! I know I’m going to be blown away by the different directions and techniques that others will be using.

I’ll be recommending this collection on my blog Adult Books 4 Teens. I wonder if you have any thoughts on what teens in particular might get from this project?

Well, I think everyone should read these poets for a number of reasons. One, that reading their words lets one know that we keep repeating our mistakes, that we seem not to learn to well from what’s gone before. Two, the writing is so incredibly eloquent and to the point. So beautiful, yet used to describe things so powerful and emotionally charged, some of it incredibly ugly really.

I hope that they’re as moved by these poems as I have been. I remember sitting on a bench in a B. Dalton booksellers in Manhattan surrounded by the throngs of customers in that store. I had pulled Wilfred Owen’s book of poems out and had begun reading. Those poems were like a punch to my gut. They took my breath away and I found tears quietly running down my cheeks. Like a quote from a Cat Stevens tune: “Sitting on my own, not by myself.”

Categories: Library News

Illustrating the Poetry of World War I, One Hundred Years Later

Wed, 2014-08-13 07:00

There are various dates given as the first day of World War I, from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, to the first shots fired by Austro-Hungarian soldiers on July 28 to the August 4th declaration of war by the British Empire, signalling the truly world-wide stretch of the conflict. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that 100 years ago today, thousands of soldiers were being killed in the first weeks of one of the largest wars in world history.  Among those fighting in August 1914 was Siegfried Sassoon, one of the best of the “Trench Poets”–mostly British writers and poets who fought in the trenchs of the Western Front and wrote about their experiences, mostly in poetry but also in prose.

I first encountered the Trench Poets at age 19, in a course on Early 20th Century British Literature at UCLA, while a less epic, but still horrifying war was being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan (and, if President Bush was to be believed, throughout the world). I was immediately taken with these poets, especially Wilfred Owen and his magnum opus “Dulce et Decorum Est,” a blisteringly anti-war poem which nonetheless manages to convey the longing of boys for combat. “Gas! Gas! Quick, boy!–An ecstasy of fumbling” remains one the best and most disturbing lines of poetry I’ve read. Metaphors and imagery taken from sex (like that “ecstasy of fumbling”) and nature permeate the poetry of the Trench Poets, as if they are trying to ward off the horrors of the mechanized war by comparing it to the most natural things they can think of.

Today’s review is of an incredible collection of the poetry of the Trench Poets–along with some baudy soldier’s songs–illustrated by some of the great graphic novelists and comic artists around. As I state in my review below, the illustrators have used a range of styles and angles on how to illustrate poems which are already complete in themselves. But it is very rare that any of them fail to add something to the already powerful words. These are perfect poems for teenagers trying to make sense of war and destruction, especially those teens who sense war’s inherent futility, in which so many of the Trench Poets believed. And the illustrations should be a perfect entree for teen into this important work.

For anyone whose interest is piqued by this review, come back on Friday for an interview with George Pratt, illustrator of three of the four Wilfred Owen poems included in the collection.

* DUFFY, Chris, ed. Above the Dreamless Dead: World War I in Poetry and Comics. illus. by Various. 144p. First Second. Jul. 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781626720657. LC 2014029047.

In this haunting graphic novel, editor Duffy has collected 25 poems written during World War I—most by the so-called “Trench Poets,” men who fought and in some cases died in the trenches of Western Europe—and asked some of today’s finest comic artists to illustrate them. While the vast majority of the poems can be categorized as anti-war, their tones and styles range from the lyrical, contemplative verse of Thomas Hardy (at 74 years old decidedly not a trench poet) to the densely bitter barrages of Wilfred Owen. And the illustrations show a similar range of styles. Most of the artists opt for fairly traditional panelled cartoons, though the art can range from grittily realistic to more traditional comic mannerisms. And some artists, such as George Pratt and Stephen R. Bissette abandon panels entirely to create darkly expressionistic backgrounds for their spreads. In addition to the primary poems, Duffy includes several soldiers’ songs—popular, often bawdy, and irreverent songs sung by soldiers in the war—all illustrated in a jokey comic style by Hunt Emerson. The result of this hodgepodge of techniques and tones is nothing short of a masterpiece: at once a reimagining and reinterpretation of some of the great poetry of the early 20th Century for those who have already encountered it, and an ideal introduction to the facts and the literature of World War I for teens who have not.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

Family Histories and Folktales

Mon, 2014-08-11 10:12

Today we review two books that offer intriguing, even haunting, stories from unfamiliar cultures. Both are inspired by the family histories and folktales the authors were told by family members, one Native American, one Vietnamese.

We begin with House of Purple Cedar, an historical novel that reveals both the daily and spiritual life of one Choctaw family in 1896 Oklahoma. Author Tim Tingle is Choctaw and grew up in a family that told stories of their experiences. For more information on Tingle and the background to this novel, I highly recommend an excellent interview published by Kirkus earlier this year. Tingle’s middle grade novel, How I Became a Ghost won the 2014 American Indian Youth Literature Award (given by the American Indian Library Association).

The Frangipani Hotel is a collection of short stories based on the Vietnamese folktales the author heard from her Grandmother. Violet Kupersmith has turned them into stories full of spirits and hauntings, set in modern Vietnam or in U.S. Vietnamese communities. Kupersmith is still in her early 20s, and started this collection while still in college. Teen readers will find it fascinating.

TINGLE, Tim. House of Purple Cedar. 326p. Cinco Puntos. 2014. Tr. $21.95. ISBN 9781935955696; pap. $16.95. ISBN 9781935955245. LC 2013010570.  

Like a slow river winding through a hot country, Tingle takes us to the Oklahoma Territory of the late 1800s. While on an outing with her family, 11-year-old Rose watches as her grandfather Amafo is beaten by Marshall Hardwicke for no apparent reason. Instead of retaliating, Amafo goes home, only to return to town the next day to meet Marshall eye-to-eye. His nonviolent approach ultimately has consequences, as it is disconcerting for the Marshall, who cannot let it lie and is determined to avenge his anger at what he considers to be an affront. Readers learn about the Choctaw way of life as we follow Rose, her grandmother Pokoni, her best friends, and the citizens of Skullyville as they try to make sense of the Marshall’s violence. Tall tales and fabulous characters intersperse with a story that unfolds, highlighting the racial tension and violent anger that festers in the Marshall. Told in retrospect by Rose, this tale will transport readers back to the dusty plains where life is hard, and where racism allows violent acts that can scar a town, even as it bring it closer together. Give this to teens who think deeply and who can handle a novel that jumps from one character and narrative to another in this suspenseful winding tale.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

KUPERSMITH, Violet. The Frangipani Hotel: Stories. 240p. Spiegel & Grau. Apr. 2014. Tr $25. ISBN 9780812993318. LC 2013013169.  

Kupersmith’s eerie Vietnamese ghost stories are sure to mesmerize.  Each tale is chilling, whether it be an old man moonlighting as a python; a crimson scarf that infects the wearer with its psychic residue; a mysterious, mangy cat with an animalistic connection to an American teacher; or many more lingering tales that paint the culture of Vietnamese mysticism.  The debut collection is named for the creepiest of the nine stories, about a bilingual boy who wrestles with his identity as a descendant of generations of Frangipani Hotel workers and his potential to climb the economic ladder when a beautifully melancholy ghost appears full of tempting promises and grim consequences that shatter his identity altogether.  In American popular culture, ghosts usually have a purpose and are laid to rest once their mission is fulfilled. This group of ghouls, however, lacks clear motives for their haunting, leaving readers with whirling questions and disturbing realizations about the meaning of unfinished business. Even the haunting are haunted in these stories, as the specters have a direct link to the living and seem to want to cause anguish, leaving a trail of disconnect in their wake. These alluring vignettes are just long enough to captivate and develop characters, plot, and message with without being too overburdening.  Comparable in content and literary quality to Marcus Sedgwick’s Midwinterblood (Roaring Brook, 2013) and Sonya Hartnett’s The Ghost’s Child (Candlewick, 2008).—Jamie-Lee Schombs, Loyola School, New York City

Categories: Library News

Lock In

Thu, 2014-08-07 07:00

John Scalzi’s Redshirts was one of my favorite books of 2012 to recommend–fun and funny, Science Fiction but easily accessible to non-SF readers. Now he’s back with another high-concept Science Fiction title, Lock In. A disease called Haden’s Syndrome leaves its victims completely paralyzed–”locked in”–but with their mental facilities fully intact, calling for a series of technological workarounds such as Avatar-like robots. The meat of the novel is a detective story, and Scalzi leaves much of the back story behind Haden’s Syndrome out of the novel. Fortunately, for those of us interested in the details of the concept, Scalzi has published a prequel novella, “Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome”–available for free online on publisher Tor’s website. Our reviewer assures me that the novel makes perfect sense without the prequel (she read the novel first), but if you only have time for 45 pages or so, take a look at “Unlocked.” And by all means recommend Lock In to fans of Scalzi’s previous work, as well as SF fans in general.

SCALZI, John. Lock In. 336p. Tor. Aug. 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780765375865. LC 2014015247.

A bird flulike virus has swept the world, leaving one percent of its victims “locked in”—fully aware and conscious, but unable to move their bodies. Partly because one of the early victims is the wife of a U.S. President, the syndrome (called Haden’s, after the first lady) has inspired all sorts of technological workarounds to help Haden sufferers, including a virtual reality network and even robots (called “threeps” after C3P0) that allow them to participate in daily life. Chris Shane is a Haden who comes from a privileged background—and was once the poster child for Haden’s research—and who has taken a job with the FBI. On his first day on the job, he and his partner are called to investigate a homicide that appears to have been committed by an Integrator, a licensed individual who temporarily shares a body and brain with a Haden. The investigation leads Chris and his partner to an Indian reservation, a lab that does Haden’s research, and even the dinner table of Chris’s own father, who is running for the U.S. Senate. Scalzi is a master at flippant dialogue and at integrating technological details and moral and ethical dilemmas into a fast-moving story. Teens who like their science fiction straight and realistic (with a dash of humor) will enjoy this one.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library

Categories: Library News

The Magician’s Land

Mon, 2014-08-04 07:07

Is there anything better than a trilogy that improves with each installment? That’s saying a lot when the first book wins an Alex Award (The Magicians) and the second (The Magician King) makes our AB4T Best of the Year list. Lev Grossman wraps up the trilogy with The Magician’s Land (releasing tomorrow) in a singularly satisfying manner. It’s a struggle to avoid spoilers here because I was so terribly pleased and moved by the ending of this third book, and what that ending says about growing up. But I must. You will need to read it yourself.

There are glowing reviews out in the world right now, most of which agree that this book is the best of the trilogy, and I have to agree. (The New York Times reviewer, for one, does a splendid job of capturing how well The Magician’s Land works.) I have read the first two books in the trilogy more than once and look forward to a re-read of this one. I’m the first to admit that I’m not a huge fantasy reader, but there is something about this world that makes me want to linger, to live in it a little. And I think that’s because Grossman is both a very, very funny, entertaining (and big-hearted) writer, and because he has things (hard, true things) to say about life and our world. 

But enough about me. What will teens think? After all, we are talking about characters who are past school, beyond college, and into their late 20s/early 30s. Why should teens care? Of course, readers of the first two will be dying to see how Quentin’s story wraps up. And there are wonderful set pieces — from the heist-gone-wrong to Quentin’s encounter with Alice (his first love who reappears here in frightening form) to the end of the world in Fillory. What does it look like when a magical world dies? (There are so many inventive images in this part of the book, it is astonishing.)

Perceptive teens will appreciate how The Magician’s Land speaks to the way childhood dreams can mature into important work. And those who love series that extend a mythology through each book (yes, Narnia; yes, Harry Potter) will be entranced by what they learn about Fillory, and how they learn it.

Meanwhile, just a few weeks ago the folks at the Syfy channel announced that they would produce the pilot of a television version of The Magicians. If the series moves forward you can bet that even more teens will become fans of the books. You’ve been warned.

And for us, the adults who love books and love sharing them with others, for us the author has left little gifts. In The Magician’s Land, the joy of reading has power. Literally.

* GROSSMAN, Lev. The Magician’s Land. 401p. Viking. Aug. 2014. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9780670015672. LC 2014010097.  

“Can a man who can cast a spell ever really grow up?” This question is posed in The Magicians (Viking, 2009), the first book in Grossman’s trilogy that concludes with The Magician’s Land. Many coming-of-age stories are about leaving childhood behind but this fantasy series has always presented a more interesting idea; growing up means holding on to a bit of childlike magical thinking to fuel the dreams that will change the world. This is the journey readers have taken with Quentin as he’s aged from a sullen teenager to a prematurely hoary 30-year-old man. Banished from Fillory, with no kingdom to lead and nowhere else to go, Quentin returns to Brakebills in search of a job. After his tenure as a professor at his alma mater is cut short, he takes on the adventure of a magical heist. Meanwhile, Fillory is dying. Eliot and Janet are determined to find a way to save the collapsing magical world, but the end might be inevitable. The parallel narratives move at a slower pace than typical teen readers may expect, but there are numerous plot threads to resolve here, and Grossman does each one justice with satisfyingly loving details. An older reader who has followed the series will relish these moments, especially when the dual narratives converge. Fans won’t be disappointed with this emotional conclusion, full of the author’s wry voice, sharp characterization, and unique ability to blend pop culture with fantasy.—Joy Piedmont, LREI, New York City

Categories: Library News

Two Strong Women in Love

Wed, 2014-07-30 07:00

Both of today’s novels are about far more than romance, but love is certainly one element they share. Another is a strong cultural setting.

Jean Kwok is known by many librarians and teen readers as the author of Girl in Translation, which earned her an Alex Award. Mambo in Chinatown features a slightly older protagonist, but is still a coming-of-age (or coming-into-her-own) set in a Chinese American culture. There was one crucial element that I was unable to fit into my review. In the middle of what is essentially a Cinderella story, Charlie’s younger sister Lisa becomes quite ill, and their father will not allow her to see a Western doctor. Lisa is treated by her uncle, who is a well-known doctor of Eastern medicine in their neighborhood. I mention this because there are definitely teen readers who will be interested in the uncle’s methods and medicines, from scorpions to mushrooms.

Are there teens who watch “Dancing with the Stars”? I don’t hear my students talking about it. But for those interested in any kind of dance, this will be a particularly fun read. Also, like Girl in Translation, there are many autobiographical elements in Mambo in Chinatown, as discussed in a recent NPR Weekend Edition interview. My favorite element of the story is its depiction of the transformation that comes from the joy of pursuing something you truly love — even if it’s really hard work. Many young athletes and artists will relate.

The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis takes place within another close community, the Portuguese of Provincetown, MA. It follows two young people from the tragedy that brought them together as children through the next 30 years. This is a long book for a teen to tackle, but for those who relish a story of love and struggle and enjoy a good saga, this is a great recommendation.

It is interesting to read about the author’s experiences writing the novel, especially about discovering her two main characters. Take a look at her interview with fellow author Caroline Leavitt.

KWOK, Jean. Mambo in Chinatown. 384p. Riverhead. Jun. 2014. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9781594632006. LC 2013043639.  

Kwok follows up her Alex Award-winning debut, Girl in Translation (Riverhead, 2010) with the story of 22-year-old Charlie Wong, a hard-working, frumpy, and clumsy dishwasher at the restaurant where her father is noodle master. Her mother was a ballerina in Beijing until she married and moved to the United States. She died when Charlie was 14. The protagonist takes care of her younger sister Lisa and their loving but traditional father in New York City’s Chinatown, a neighborhood full of friends and relatives. Charlie never did well at school; Lisa, on the other hand, is studying to win a place at a school for gifted students. One day she persuades Charlie to apply for a receptionist position at an uptown ballroom dance studio. Charlie is shocked to get the job. Then, when an instructor is fired, Charlie is asked to cover. She’s given some dance clothes and instruction, and she’s a natural. The students love her, Charlie is promoted, and her life becomes a whirlwind of training and teaching, all of which she hides from her father. Her studio colleagues persuade her to enter a competition for professional/amateur pairs with one of her students, Ryan. From their first encounter, it is obvious that Ryan and Charlie were meant to be. Fortunately, the obvious hardly takes the pleasure out of Charlie’s uplifting journey toward finding her real self. Young readers will revel in the romance, the sister relationship, and glimpses of Chinese American culture. Most of all, they will love Charlie’s transformation from “ugly duckling” into graceful, confident swan.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

FRANCIS, Patry. The Orphans of Race Point. 524p. Harper Perennial. May 2014. pap. $15.99. ISBN 9780062281302. LC 2013031980.  

As teenagers in love, the titular orphans Hallie Costa and Gus Silva fall more deeply than most, based on a childhood bond. The emotional weight of the past propels this massive page-turner set among the “Portagees” of Provincetown, Massachusetts. As the theme of love expands into the filial and spiritual realms, the novel broadens and deepens into a multigenerational story about community. Twin pillars of the older generation—Dr. Nick, Hallie’s wise but preoccupied father and the town doctor, and Father Jack D’Souza, a local priest who reluctantly becomes Gus’s role model—each cherish their life’s work that’s about love on a whole other level. Hallie cuts a pretty towering figure herself: a perceptive child, she figures out how to befriend the silent Gus, muted by the violent death of his mother. But when they fall in love years later, her strength of character cautions her away from his problems; refreshingly it’s Gus—the male protagonist—who is beautiful, troubled, and misunderstood. It is he who runs away and she who stays to rebuild. Hallie is memorably drawn: intelligent and caring, she nonetheless lets her heart lead the way. Readers must decide if it got broken along the heroine’s path to true adulthood.—Georgia Christgau, Middle College High School, Long Island City, NY

 

Categories: Library News

Detective Fiction Round-Up

Mon, 2014-07-28 13:39

Despite their obvious differences–fifth book in an ongoing series; first book in a projected series, based on a TV show and movie; standalone by a master of horror–the three books under review today share something more in common than their detective fiction trappings. All three should take little to no prodding to fly off your shelves, as they all come with established fan bases.

First up is Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line. Anyone who was paying to pop culture news last year should remember the Kickstarter.com project to fund the Veronica Mars movie. Fans of the cult teen-PI TV show made the movie the fastest Kickstarter project to reach $1 million and the third highest-funded Kickstarter project ever. The film came out earlier this year to largely positive reviews, and Rob Thomas (the creator of the TV show, writer and director of the film, and YA hero for his novel Rats Saw God) quickly followed it up with news of this novel.

The novel, co-written by Jennifer Graham, picks up after the events of the film, and reads pretty much exactly like an episode of the TV show (in fact, the audiobook is narrated by Kristen Bell, the star of the show who provided voice-over narration for every episode). And just as the TV show and movie, it neatly intertwines the travails of our plucky heroine and her seedy hometown of Neptune, CA with a fascinating mystery. Needless to say, fans should flock to this, and will be happy to hear that another novel in the series is due at the end of the year.

Next up is a man who needs no introduction, Stephen King. I mentioned his new book, Mr. Mercedes, in my post on Alex Award winners, and now here it is. As our reviewer states, despite King’s reputation as a horror-master, this book is detective fiction, with a healthy dash of psychological thriller. Read it.

Finally, we have the newest book in the Patrik Hedstrom series by Camilla Lackberg. Last year we featured a post giving you a run-down of everything that’s happened in the series up till now. Now, we come to the fifth book in the series, Hidden Child, which takes us further into the domestic life of Patrik and Erica, while at the same time taking a turn for the darker in the mystery itself.

THOMAS, Rob and Jennifer Graham. Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line. 324p. Vintage. Jul. 2014. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9780804170703. LC 2014001174.

Picking up a few weeks after the end of the famously Kickstarted film Veronica Mars, this first in a projected series follows Veronica as she struggles to reestablish herself in her hometown of Neptune, California, and solve a couple of mysteries along the way. The mystery in this novel surrounds the disappearance of two girls from the same Spring Break party house, a week apart, one of whom turns out to be Veronica’s stepsister. Fans of the film and the TV show on which it was based will be delighted by the presence of most of their favorite characters: tech-savvy and sarcastic Mac, ever-faithful Wallace, surfer-dude Dick, and of course Veronica’s father Keith Mars. These characters, especially their dialogue, are every bit as interesting as they were in the series, but fans of Thomas’s YA novels shouldn’t expect the same level of immaculate prose. The novel does rely on readers’ prior knowledge and goodwill, but the mystery has just enough twists to keep the plot interesting, and promises good things to come in subsequent series entries. Veronica still has plenty of teen fans, and for those who don’t know her yet, hopefully these books will lead them back to one of the great teen mystery shows.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

KING, Stephen. Mr. Mercedes. 437p. Scribner. Jun. 2014. Tr $30. ISBN 9781476754451. LC 2013046172.

King’s latest is more of a detective story than a horror novel; although the bad guy is plenty creepy, in classic King style there are no supernatural elements. “Mr. Mercedes” is the press nickname for a man who drove a Mercedes into a crowd waiting outside a job fair in an unnamed Midwestern city, killing eight and wounding dozens. He was never caught, but one day a year he sends a taunting letter to the now-retired detective, Bill Hodges, who was formerly in charge of the case. Hodges, who has been contemplating suicide, finds a new lease on life in tracking down Mr. Mercedes, with the help of his 17-year-old neighbor and friend, Jerome Robinson. The action moves between Hodges’s point of view and that of Mr. Mercedes, Brady Hartsfield, who is feeling the need to commit more murder and mayhem. Until the very end, it is uncertain which of the two will prevail, as each tries to figure out the other’s next step. King still knows how to write a page-turning story, and this one works as a detective story and as a psychological thriller. Teens who are King fans will of course already be reading this one, but it could also be a good starter novel for those new to him; the plot-driven story, the references to popular culture, and a minor—but important—teenaged character will draw them in.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County (CA) Library

LÄCKBERG, Camilla. The Hidden Child. tr. from Swedish by Marlaine Delargy. 528p. (Patrik Hedstrom: Bk. 5). Pegasus Bks. May 2014. Tr $25.95. ISBN  9781605985534. LC 2014013399.

The newest entry in the “Fjällbacka” series carries on two key themes of the previous books: the dangers that lurk in small towns, and several seemingly unrelated crimes that are, in fact, related. The novel focuses on the seemingly idyllic relationship between Detective Patrik Hedstrom and his wife Erica. Erica is at the end of her maternity leave (not so much leave as “rest,” since she’s an author who works from home) and Patrik is at the start of his paternity leave, charged with taking care of their daughter while Erica works. Instead, the protagonist doesn’t quite go back to work as much as spending time reading her deceased mother’s old journals, looking to connect with the distant woman who raised her. At the same time, Patrik is “chatting” with his colleagues about a murder of a former history teacher, then a former friend of Erica’s mother, and finally a noted neo-Nazi—all nearly the same age and all, according to her mother’s journals, friends once upon a time.  The “hidden child” is the connection, why is he or she killing now? As with all of Läckberg’s books, the focus here is on plot and family, with the mystery more a way of exploring these lives. The Hidden Child is a little darker than the previous installment, but it is lightened by the escapades of Patrik’s boss, Melberg. As with the rest of the series, the tone falls in between the police procedural and cozy mystery subgenres, with a Scandinavian twist.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, CT

Categories: Library News

A New Look at Peter Pan

Thu, 2014-07-24 14:01

For such a big fan of fairy tales, you would think that I’d have a healthy appreciation for one of the 20th Century’s preeminent fairy tale creations, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. But in truth, I’ve never much cared for the little imp, even now that my 4-year-old son is obsessed with him and has me regularly dress up as Captain Hook to fight him. Too much Edwardian stuffiness; too much casual racism; and too little meaty subtext aside from the obvious veneration of childhood.

So it was a bit of a surprise to me how much I enjoyed the book under review today, Lisa Jensen’s Alias Hook. A huge part of the appeal for me was Jensen’s decision to move the main action of Hook’s story from the Edwardian age of Barrie to the true period of the pirates in the early 18h Century. I also quite liked Jensen’s acknowledgement of the essential cruelty of Pan and the Lost Boys toward Hook and his men, even if in the end Jensen reaffirms the importance of Pan in our imaginations.

Most importantly, this is a tremendously character-driven novel, and Jensen gives powerful life to Hook and his love interest, Stella, in a way that would not have ever made sense for Barrie.

JENSEN, Lisa. Alias Hook. 368p. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. July 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781250042156; ebk. ISBN 9781466839717.

In her inventive take on J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Jensen takes the inherently iterative nature of such fairy tales and literalizes it: Pan does not merely defeat Capt. Hook again and again in each retelling or rereading of the tale; here he is actually reincarnated after each defeat, fitted with a new crew, and offered up to be defeated by Pan once more. As the novel opens, Hook has been trapped in Neverland for some 200 years and wishes for nothing more than a true death. But something else is afoot. He knows that his crews are made up of old Lost Boys, wandering back to Neverland as adults, but never has a “Wendy” returned, until Stella makes her appearance. After some initial bafflement and bluster, Hook and Stella fall in love, and together they attempt to unravel the mystery of the curse that has kept Hook prey to Pan for so many years. Jensen’s attempts at mythology here, especially the specifics of the curse, are a bit convoluted, but it doesn’t much matter—the heart of this highly affecting novel is the intertwined stories of the redemption of a seemingly irredeemable man, and the powerful love story of Hook and Stella. Ultimately this is less a deconstruction—indeed, Jensen’s take on the importance of childhood and Neverland is surprisingly consonant with Barrie’s—than an extension that  teen fans of Peter Pan—whether the original play and novel, the Disney film, or any other variant since—should highly enjoy.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

New Books from Alex Award Winners — The Reviews

Mon, 2014-07-21 15:58

Last week Mark put together a terrific list of current books by past Alex Award winners. Today, we offer two reviews from that group.

We begin with the second book by Lisa O’Donnell, Closed Doors. O’Donnell’s debut, The Death of Bees, won an Alex Award just last year. Our reviewer called The Death of Bees a “quick but often uncomfortable read” and noted its “engrossing exploration of relationships.” Closed Doors is equally hard-hitting, but less black humor and more straight coming-of-age. In both novels, the voice of the characters is particularly strong.

Mary Lawson won a 2003 Alex Award for her debut, Crow Lake. The Alex annotation reads, “Now a successful zoology professor, Kate recalls her parents’ death and being brought up and sustained by her older brothers, especially Matt with whom she shares a love of the wonders of nature. An affecting novel about hardship, tragedy, choices, and family relationships.”

Lawson’s new novel, Road Ends, can also be categorized as tragic literary fiction. Give this one to readers who enjoy books about dysfunctional families. It is interesting that in both of these novels siblings sacrifice personal happiness for the well-being of their brothers and sisters.

O’DONNELL, Lisa. Closed Doors. 246p. HarperCollins. May 2014. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062271891.  

Eleven-year-old Michael tries to make sense of the world around him by piecing together what he overhears behind closed doors and asking his friends questions. After his mother is raped, she is worried about what people in her small Scottish town will say so she invents a story to cover up the attack. When more women in the community are assaulted, Ma starts to regret her decision to keep quiet, but she fears it is too late to say anything. Michael works his way through the secrecy and overprotection of his parents and Grandma. Michael’s narration here is a cross between Jack from Emma Donoghue’s Room (Little Brown, 2010) and Ajay from Akhil Sharma’s Family Life (W. W. Norton, 2014). Teens will recognize and appreciate his authentic voice, particularly during scenes when he flip-flops between wanting to kiss girls and calling them names or when hunched over a dictionary looking up “intercourse” in order to put context to words thrown around in his house or between his peers. A strong coming-of-age tale from the Alex Award-winning author of The Death of Bees (HarperCollins, 2013).—Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ

LAWSON, Mary. Road Ends. 352p. Dial Pr. Jul. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9780812995732. LC  2014005691.  

Megan is 21 and lives in a small town in northern Canada. Since she was a child she has kept her large and ever-growing family going. Now she is finally escaping to London to make a life for herself, and she does just that by becoming a successful hotel manager. Her family, however, is falling apart without her. Her father is distant and stays in his study while at home, and has a background and issues that only gradually become revealed. Her mother is going slowly insane, and is compelled to have baby after baby whom she abandons for all intents and purposes once the next one comes along. The other children are just running wild, and Tom, the oldest brother, is struggling with his own demons. While readers will love Megan from the start, it is only through the slow unveiling of the other family members’ tales that they will come to appreciate each person’s place in this troubled home. The novel is told through alternating narratives: Edward, the father, tells his story in first person; Megan and Tom’s tales are told in third person. Compelling and heartbreaking, the work’s conclusion is nothing less than infuriating. Upon reflection, readers will come to accept that this eventuality is very realistic for 1960s small-town women, and for the understanding of mental illness at that time. A great book club choice for older teens, be prepared for impassioned discussion.—Jake Pettit, Enka Schools, Istanbul, Turkey

Categories: Library News

A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip

Fri, 2014-07-18 12:26

I mentioned in our Best Books of the Year so far post that “If I’d had a week longer, I would have been able to list a tremendous memoir which we’ll be featuring here shortly.” Well, it’s been shortly, and here it is: Keven Brockmeier’s A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip. As a mention below, in a lot of ways, this is a pretty risky memoir–focusing on 7th grade, telling it in the 3rd person, and introducing a strange metafictional interlude at the mid-point. But it’s also possible that readers may miss all of this entirely, especially if they don’t realize that it is a memoir, because it reads equally well as a coming-of-age novel. However one reads it, it is absolutely perfect for teens (indeed, perhaps more perfect for teens than adults), especially teens in that tragic part of life called Middle School.

*BROCKMEIER, Kevin. A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of the Seventh Grade. 208p. Pantheon. Apr. 2014. Tr $24. ISBN 9780307908988. LC 22013031895.

In this masterful memoir, Brockmeier takes three significant narrative risks, any one of which could have opened him up to charges of gimmickry, trivialization, or both, but which together combine to produce a moving portrait of young adolescence. In the realm of gimmickry is Brockmeier’s odd decision to tell his story in the third person—a trick which might have gotten old quickly but for his second strange decision: to limit the scope of his memoir to his year as a seventh-grader. These two narrative tools give the memoir the feel and shape of a novel, but could have resulted in a very trivial book indeed were it not for Brockmeier’s third narrative risk: an incredibly gimmicky break into the realm of metafiction at the book’s midway point, in which contemporary Kevin freezes time to discuss young Kevin’s life, and whether he would have wanted never to have been born. It’s a play straight out of It’s a Wonderful Life, but it works beautifully to give thematic heft to the memoir, showing readers just how crucial this one year in Brockmeier’s life was: his self-consciousness came to a crucial breaking point; almost all of his friends turned on him, bullying him mercilessly; and yet he began to come into his own as a writer. The moment of metafiction represents what truly was a turning point in Brockmeier’s life, and anyone who suffered through middle school in self-doubt or was bullied, will find Brockmeier’s story emotionally resonant and ultimately optimistic.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

Language in Speculative Fiction

Wed, 2014-07-16 12:30

Today we review two speculative novels in which language plays an important role.

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon is all about language and the ways that technology changes words and communication. For teens who are as attached to their devices as to most of their actual body parts, this is ideally relevant literary fiction. (Slate titled their review “When Smartphones Attack.” Brilliant.) Certainly, smartphones have already changed language, communication, and the way we read and think. Graedon takes these changes a few steps further–steps that are not beyond the realm of future possibility.

Our reviewer cites The Word Exchange as good readalike for Max Barry’s Lexicon, which we LOVED on this blog last year. I suspect that fans of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan should also be directed to this one.

Chris Beckett‘s Dark Eden was published in 2012 in the U.K., where it won the 2013 Arthur C. Clarke award for best science fiction novel. Beckett also uses language, in this case as an element of world-building, to “suggest the unique dialect that would undoubtedly evolve in a small community cut off from Earth for 160 years.” This quote is from an article about creating the dialect (a combination of Brooklyn and London accented English mutated over time) and the subsequent challenge of recording the Dark Eden audiobook. 

Obviously, reading a book that uses language mutations, including made-up vocabulary, can be challenging. Readers have to acclimate to the prose. Fortunately, both of these novels are very engaging and have clear appeal factors for the younger set. The Word Exchange has the technology hook and Dark Eden has teen characters who “struggle to be taken seriously by those dismissive of young people’s ideas.”

*GRAEDON, Alena. The Word Exchange. 370p. Doubleday. Apr. 2014. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9780385537650. LC 2013033165.  

Graedon’s debut novel is an SAT-prep dystopian masterpiece. Anana works for her father, at the North American Dictionary of the English Language. But the NADEL is dying, along with the printed word.  Americans are so dependent on their memes (wearable smartphones) that they welcome the invention of implants and mind-controlling technology. Unfortunately, corporations (including one helmed by Anana’s ex-boyfriend) misuse the tech, and viral word flu devastates the country. Not only do those affected substitute created words for real words, but they also become nauseous and mentally unstable. Thousands die, riots ensue, and the protagonist must find her missing dad to help solve the mystery of the communication disaster. Anana, her family, and friends speak like a SAT vocabulary prep book, using words like “amanuensis,” “ouroboros,” and “scurf.” That alone makes this book accessible to teens who think the SAT Vocabulary Novels from SparkNotes are an insult. But, Graedon also creates delightful new words, and, though they are slow-going at first, chapters from the point of view of word flu sufferers are stand-outs. Well-read bibliophiles will recognize the literary connections, especially to Lewis Carroll and Samuel Johnson. Give this to teens who don’t mind a slower novel than Max Barry’s Lexicon (Penguin, 2013), and who like to explore dystopian mind games of M.T. Anderson’s Feed (Candlewick, 2004).—Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

BECKETT, Chris. Dark Eden. 400p. Broadway. Apr. 2014. pap. $15. ISBN 9780804138680.  

The community of Eden came to be when Tommy and Angela, astronauts from Earth, were stranded on a distant planet. Their crewmates promised to rescue them from this cold, dark world where animals and plants were the only sources of light and heat. During the long wait for their crewmates’ arrival they began to procreate. Now, 163 years and 532 people later, the Edenites cling to their origin story, still expecting to be taken home by their earthly relatives. Space and resources are getting scarce as their population grows, but the Old Ones refuse to look for other places to live, fearing their rescuers won’t be able to find them. Fifteen-year-old John Redlantern is tired of waiting; he rejects staying still rather than taking action to improve their current existence. He tries to push for the importance of settling new areas and is immediately rebuffed. He defies the elders and takes off alone, soon joined by other young people anxious to move beyond the physical and mental boundaries of their community. Their dramatic journey, the effect of their departure on those left behind, and their eventual discoveries make an incredibly compelling story which will resonate with teens. The struggle to be taken seriously by those dismissive of young people’s ideas, watching fear of change lead to ossified thinking, and seeing missed opportunities for innovation will be familiar to many readers. The brilliant world-building paired with issues of independence give this sci-fi story broad appeal.—Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, CA

Categories: Library News

My Salinger Year

Mon, 2014-07-14 07:00

Joanna Rakoff’s wonderfully engaging memoir, My Salinger Year, shares the author’s experiences during the year she moves to New York City straight out of grad school. She sort of maybe wants to be a poet. She knows she wants to work with books. Maybe publishing? She leaves her boyfriend behind, even though he sounds like a good guy (maybe because he’s a good guy?) and takes up with a not-entirely-nice aspiring novelist. It’s that time of life when the decisions we make confound even us.

A placement agency finds her a position at a literary agency that is rather behind the times. Her boss is a much softer version of Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. Still, she’s eccentric, unpredictable, and a bit of a mystery. Rakoff lies her way into the job. She doesn’t actually know how to type or use a dictaphone. (And why should she?! They’ve been out of style for years.) But she muddles through, becoming quite good at it. She even places a short story with a small literary magazine and feels triumphant. Her boss is ready to take her under her wing. And that’s the problem–what happens to her own writing if she commits to becoming an agent?

This is for any teen who dreams of a career in publishing or writing (and they’re out there). Or any teen who dreams of escaping their hometown by moving to the big city. Yes, the events in this book took place almost 20 years ago, but the basics haven’t changed. Trying to find livable, affordable housing in Brooklyn (let alone an affordable lunch in Midtown); juggling credit card debt and student loans with going out to dinner with friends; the sadness of high school and college friendships that fade with time; weathering the humiliations of needing to ask for help with the simplest things during your first day(s) at work, like how to turn on the electric typewriter.

Then there’s J.D. Salinger. Even though Rakoff’s boss is losing most of her clients, she is still Salinger’s agent, and dealing with speaker requests, fan letters and Salinger’s own telephone calls is a big part of Rakoff’s job. Salinger remains an enigma, but Rakoff’s reaction to his work is a wonder to read. If you have teens in your libraries who are passionate about Salinger’s books, they need to read this.

Finally, I thought I might mention that this is a rather PG-rated read, as memoirs go. No abuse, no dysfunctional family. It’s a refreshing change of pace.

RAKOFF, Joanna. My Salinger Year. 272p. Knopf. Jun. 2014. Tr $25.95. ISBN  9780307958006. LC 2013026931.  

Rakoff’s affecting coming-of-age memoir of her time spent working in publishing begins when she dropped out of graduate school and moved to New York City to write poetry and find herself. She left her college boyfriend behind and moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn with a man who lived off of her earnings while working on his first novel. In January 1996, the young woman as an assistant at a venerable literary agency. She hoped this would mean discovering new talent, but mostly she used a dictaphone and hulking old Selectric to type letters and contracts. Her (unnamed) gruff and enigmatic boss was quite old-fashioned about technology. The Agency’s most famous client was J. D. Salinger. Joanna was tasked with typing up form letter responses to his fan mail, and told never to engage him in conversation on the telephone. As time passed, Joanna was increasingly unable to stick to the required form letter, especially in reply to war veterans and young readers changed by The Catcher in the Rye, and these letters haunted her. She also found herself caught up in conversations with Salinger about poetry, and even Agency business. At the start, Joanna was naive, inexperienced, and lacked confidence in her personal and professional life. By the end of this memoir, she has grown enough to leave her freeloading boyfriend and reconsider her place in the publishing world. Teens who dream of living in New York will be enthralled, and Joanna’s overwhelming response to Salinger’s books will have them rushing to re-read them all over again.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Categories: Library News

New Books from Alex Award Winners

Fri, 2014-07-11 07:00

Last year around this time I looked at a far-from-complete list of new books by Alex Award winners to see which ones we had reviewed and might be reviewing. Today, I show my compulsive side by trying to put together a complete list of every 2014 book by a former Alex winner. Altogether, I found 29 new books from the 169 Alex winners.  I probably missed a couple, and I purposely excluded a few collections of older work–but all-in-all, a pretty good haul.  The biggest surprise for me is that three of last year’s ten winners are back with new books (as opposed to one 2013 winner who put out a book in 2013–Juliana Baggott, who also has a book out this year).

Probably the best benefit for me of making this list was that it drew my attention to a couple books I probably would have missed, particularly Steve Almond’s Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto and Jeff Lemire’s Teen Titans: Earth One. Feel free to let us know if there are any books here we should be paying special attention to. Anyway, here they are, broken down into similar but not identical categories to last year.

Reviewed:

Reviews to Come:

  • Jean Kwok – Mambo in Chinatown
  • Lisa O’Donnell – Closed Doors

Ineligible:

  • Rachel DeWoskin – Blink (Aug) – Published as YA
  • Gail Carriger – Waistcoats and Weaponry (Nov) – Published as YA

Not reviewed:

  • Barbara Ehrenreich – Living with a Wild God: A Memoir
  • Michael Lewis – Flash Boys
  • Emma Donoghue – Frog Music
  • Jacqueline Winspear – The Care and Management of Lies: A Novel of the Great War

Taking a Look:

  • Stephen King – Mr. Mercedes

Still to be Published:

  • Breena Clark – Angels Make Their Hope Here (July)
  • Conn Iggulden – War of the Roses: Stormbird (July)
  • Mary Lawson – Road Ends (July)
  • Lev Grossman – Magician’s Land (Aug)
  • Steve Almond – Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto (Aug)
  • Lucy Knisley – Age of License (Sept)
  • Joern, Pamela Carter – In Reach (Sept)
  • David Mitchell – Bone Clocks (Sept)
  • Jodi Picoult – Leaving Time (Oct)
  • Rothfuss – Slow Regard of Silent Things (Oct)
  • John Connolly – Wolf in Winter (Oct)
  • James Bradley – China Mirage (Oct)
  • Lynda Barry – Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor (Nov)
  • Juliet Marillier – Dreamer’s Pool (Nov)
  • Stephen King – Revival (Nov)
  • Jeff Lemire – Teen Titans: Earth One (Nov)
  • Wesley Chu – Rebirths of Tao (Dec)

Categories: Library News

Harrowing Memoirs, Part 2

Wed, 2014-07-09 07:00

Back in January, we looked at a pair of memoirs about young lives stolen through abuse and disease, and today we have two more memoirs touching on the same themes, along with a third which looks at the threat of the law. Unlike Elizabeth Smart’s somewhat older story, the tale of the captivity and dramatic freeing last year of Michelle Knight and two other young women–especially the famous role played by neighbor Charles Ramsey–is likely well-remembered by teens. Less well known is precisely what happened to these young women in the home of their captor, Ariel Castro. Knight’s memoir, heartbreaking as it is, is essential reading for those who want to know more about the case.

Eileen Cronin’s memoir tells a very different story of broken youth, traumatized by physical and emotional disabilities. The physical disability was her own–born with legs ending right around her knee (an impairment possibly caused by the infamous pregnancy drug thalidomide)–while the emotional impairment was her mother’s mental illness, sometimes resulting in hospitalizations, and her father’s urge to draw away from the drama brought on by these problems. Nevertheless, Cronin was able eventually to flourish and write this extraordinary memoir which should captivate teens.

Finally, we have Jose Angel N.’s “Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant”. Jose is not physically impaired in the way McKnight and Cronin were and are, but he is virtually limited in all he can do by the long arm of the law. As and undocumented immigrant, Jose is constantly on the look-out for ways in which he may be deported. His story brings a much needed face and voice to the far too abstract debate over immigration reform.

KNIGHT, Michelle with Michelle Burford. Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed. 249p. Weinstein Bks. May 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781602862562.

Horrendous is a word too mild to describe Knight’s 11-year ordeal with convicted Cleveland kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro. Knight’s story, unlike those of Elizabeth Smart (My Story; St. Martin’s Pr., 2013) and Jaycee Dugard (A Stolen Life; S. & S., 2011), was horrendous even before she was kidnapped. Rarely going to school, often hungry, she grew up living with 12-15 extended family members, drug activity, and daily molestation. She ran away and lived under a bridge until a drug dealer “hired” her in exchange for a place to live. At 16, Knight became pregnant—she believes by a popular football playing teen who befriended and betrayed her—and gave birth to her son. It was the memory of her son that kept her sane during her traumatic experience with Castro. This memoir is more graphic (yet not gratuitous) than Smart or Dugard’s books in her descriptions of the abuse: multiple chains around her body at all times, padlocked to a pole in the dark basement, moldy socks in her mouth, a motorcycle helmet on her head and left for days in the dark, unable to shower or bathe for eight months. It’s the stuff of nightmares.  The straightforward accounting will engage teens who love gritty and gory details. The brief information about her rescue at age 32 and her transition to a new life will pique teen interest and will have them following this survivor’s tale, especially if she continues to go public about her experiences.—Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA

CRONIN, Eileen. Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience. 336p. W.W. Norton. Jan. 2014. Tr $26.95. ISBN  9780393089011. LC 2013036717.

Back in 1960, who knew that thalidomide—even one dose—could cause serious birth defects? Certainly not Cronin’s mother, who may (or may not) have taken a dose (or more than one) in Germany (or possibly under her ob/gyn’s direction in the United States).  Eileen is the only one of the 11 Cronin children to have been born with physical problems—her legs are stubs—and as a result grew up resourceful (“squiddling” around the house) and bratty. Complicating family life was her mother’s mental illness, so severe it led to several hospitalizations, and her father’s growing need to get away from the drama. It is to Cronin’s credit that she looks at her childhood unflinchingly, not glossing over her own behavior but showing how, as she grew, she changed.  It’s clear that leaving Cincinnati and her family for Boston was the making of her; here is where she grows as a person, developing the confidence to live independently, and then finally confronting the issue of whether or not she was a thalidomide baby. Teens today may not know about the drug and how, in the rush to bring this “miracle” to pregnant women, testing was slipshod and as a result, thousands of children were born with some deformity, ranging from limbs to malformed hearts and heads.  This memoir will increase empathy in teens as well as inform them about the need to fully investigate new medicines.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, CT

N., José Ángel. Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant. 136p. (Latinos in Chicago and Midwest). Univ. of Illinois Pr. 2014. pap. $19.95. ISBN 9780252079863. LC 2013032194

An undocumented immigrant tells his story of crossing the Mexico/United States border as a teen. N. found his way to Chicago where he worked and lived in the shadows—in factories, yards, and restaurants. Taking ESL classes, he obtained a GED, bachelor’s, and master’s degree, along with a well-paying job as a professional translator. This isn’t so much a feel-good, rags-to-riches tale as it is an exploration of living underground in fear of being found out as “illegal.” Without legal identification, N. continues to live constantly on edge, fearing traffic stops, going into a bar and getting carded, or getting on a plane. He would love to vote and was invited to President Obama’s inaugural speech, but turned down the invitation for fear of having his ID inspected too closely. At his job, he waits for the other shoe to drop and his irregular social security card to be discovered. “A constant fugitive, I take shelter in the lofty flight of imagination.” This memoir is insightful and poetic. A philosophy major, N. writes poignantly about his existence in the shadows.  He watches the slow and frustrating process of immigration reform from the sidelines. Teens—some of whom may have undocumented parents or relatives, or be undocumented themselves—will be interested in the author’s journey and explorations of belonging, alienation, language, race, and class, and the ironies and contradictions of living in the U.S.— Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA

Categories: Library News

The Queen of the Tearling

Mon, 2014-07-07 07:00

Is The Queen of the Tearling the next Harry Potter? It is certainly one of the big debuts of the summer.

The first in Erika Johansen’s fantasy trilogy releases tomorrow, but many readers are already aware of the book. This is largely thanks to movie news–Harry Potter alumni Emma Watson and David Heyman committed to the film project back in 2013. Watson is set to both star and executive produce.

Early notoriety is also due to Harper’s vigorous marketing campaign, featuring a striking advanced reader copy. Library Journal’s Barbara Hoffert interviewed the author back in April, and that interview is available on the Harper website or Youtube. It includes discussion of crossover potential.

With a 19-year-old protagonist fighting for her birthright, there is no question of the book’s teen appeal. There are “mature scenes” that caused our reviewer to recommend it for older teens. Younger Hunger Games and Harry Potter fans may catch the bug, especially once the movie comes out, so it may be a good plan to read it for yourself in preparation for high interest.

You can start now–Tor.com has posted an excerpt.

JOHANSEN, Erika. The Queen of the Tearling. 448p. illus. maps. (Queen of the Tearling: Bk. 1). Harper. Jul. 2014. Tr $26.99. ISBN 9780062290366.  

On Kelsea Glynn’s 19th birthday, she is seated in a tree awaiting the arrival of the horsemen she hears approaching. On this day she will begin her journey to Tear to become Queen. Whisked away as a child into the deep recesses of the forest as her mother, Queen Elyssa, lay dying, Kelsea grew up under the tutelage of the cold but capable Carlin and kindhearted Barty. For all of those years, the evil Red Queen of Mortmesne searched for her, but failed to find her. Kelsea is now ready to claim the throne that is rightfully hers. Along the way, Kelsea learns to trust the men of the Queen’s Guard as they encounter battle with Mort assassins, hide from killer hawks, and suffer capture by the dangerous, but mesmerizing Fetch, leader of a band of thieves, faithful to no one but Tear. Led by Lazarus, each member of the Guard must decide for himself if this young woman is worthy of wearing the crown. Upon arrival, Kelsea confronts the slave trade that keeps Tear in bondage to the Mort Queen and immediately takes action against it, setting the stage for future battle. Johansen has created a fantasy world that hints at the history of our world gone awry. Mature teen readers will devour this book for its strong characters, excellent plotting, and satisfying ending that leaves them knowing that obtaining the throne is only the beginning of Kelsea’s story.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

Categories: Library News

A Morning with John Searles

Thu, 2014-07-03 13:10

Last Sunday in Las Vegas, on a ridiculously hot morning which eventually made it up to 108° F, I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Alex Award Program. Ordinarily–as say, last year–at least 3 or 4 of the winning authors manage to make it to the program, but this year, after a brief introduction by Alex Committee Chair Danielle Dreger-Babbitt, we were graced with the presence of only John Searles, author of one of this blog’s favorite books of 2013, Help for the Haunted. John made it clear from the beginning, though, that “the reason the other Alex Awards winners aren’t here is because I killed them and buried them in my back yard.” So they had a pretty good excuse.

Personally, I knew we were in for a treat before the program began, when John made his way off the podium and started introducing himself individually to the 60 or so of us who were there. Considering that he ended the program by giving personalized autographs, chatting and joking, and taking pictures with all of us, it hardly would have mattered what he said in between.  But while I’m sure we would have loved to hear from some of the other winners, having only one speaker gave the audience the chance to hear John give an amazing thirty-minute speech, rather than the brief 10 minutes usually allotted on the Alex Program.

John regaled us with stories of his awkward days on the road with his trucker father–designed to “make a man of him”, instead an opportunity to read Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, and John Irving, all of whom, John claimed, made their way into Help for the Haunted. We heard plenty of gossip from his days working for Redbook, Cosmo, and The Today Show, as well as a story about some poor publicist claiming a bizarrely inappropriate read-a-like for John’s book (too blue for this blog–check my twitter feed to get the goods).

And we learned his secrets for keeping nosy airline travelers from reading his new work over his shoulder: Step 1) put everything in tiny font that no one can read. Step 2) when asked “Are you a writer?” answer, “No, I’m a dentist.”

Most poignant was John’s heartfelt description of how important it is for him to have teen readers, as he told us about his own lonely, bullied teen years, and how his “safe haven was my little town library.”

In the Q&A session after his speech, John was asked for some book recommendations, which I thought I would pass along:

Most importantly (to us) was Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, another of this blog’s favorites of 2013.

He also recommended:

  • The Bird Box by Josh Malerman (Ecco, 2014)
  • The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon (Doubleday, 2014)
  • and (sheepishly) The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (Amy Einhorn, 2013)

Finally, be sure to check out John’s 50 Book Clubs, 50 States Challenge–where he’s trying to meet with one book club in every state.

Thank you to John for the amazing speech, and thanks again to the wonderful Alex Committee!

Categories: Library News

Lives of the Rich & Famous

Wed, 2014-07-02 21:25

We’re covering both coasts today — from a novel set in New York City high society to a memoir by a Los Angeles paparazzo.

Perhaps all I need to say about The Heiresses is the name of its author, Sara Shepard. Given the success of her novels and of the television series based on them, teen fans are sure to be seeking out her latest adult book. Like Pretty Little Liars, The Heiresses is a mystery. Members of a very wealthy and famous family are being murdered — and there’s a curse involved! Pure summer escapism.

Readers fascinated by celebrity culture will be interested in Shooting StarsJennifer Buhl‘s memoir of her years working as a paparazzo in L.A. As controversial as her (now former) profession is, there are different sides to the work. Some stars invite the attention, others work hard to avoid it. For teens curious to know more, this is the book!

SHEPARD, Sara. The Heiresses. 308p. HarperCollins. Jun. 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062259530. LC 2014015748.  

Four heiresses to a diamond company live a privileged New York City life, but when the favorite daughter turns up dead, it appears that the sisters are being targeted one by one because of some questionable family behavior. There is a storied history behind the Saybrook jewel dynasty, which became especially prosperous after World War Two, and there is no shortage of people who feel bitter toward the family whose actions can often be found on “Page Six”. Shepard writes in a breezy style, covering the scandals of the heiresses and the mystery of who might want them dead. Teens who enjoyed the gossipy plotlines of the author’s “Pretty Little Liars” books (HarperCollins) will gladly graduate to a similar, if more grown-up, story. While it may come at the expense of elements like character development, the novel will be enjoyed by those who crave to know more about luxurious lifestyles and will particularly appreciate the details about extravagant parties and the label dropping. With no shortage of despicable personalities to choose from, details are slowly and carefully revealed, implicating each character and leaving readers on the edge of their seat trying to figure out who has the greatest motive in wanting the heiresses dead. A doozy of a cliff-hanger hints at more to come in what is sure to be a hugely popular series.—Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ

BUHL, Jennifer. Shooting Stars: My Unexpected Life Photographing Hollywood’s Most Famous. glossary. maps. 326p. Sourcebooks. Apr. 2014. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781402297007. LC 2013046457.  

For a few years, Buhl served as one of the very few female paparazza in Hollywood. This memoir, if not quite a tell-all, is a “tell-quite-a bit” of her years on the glamorous celebrity beat. The author had an interest in photography, but not much of one in taking snapshots of the stars. But she had a keen sense of adventure and experience, so when she stumbled into a shoot, she decided to give it a try. In the ensuing chapters, readers learn how celebrity weeklies get their pictures, why the “upscale” ones don’t publish unattractive shots, and which celebrity is a “get” and who “never gives it up.” Buhl recounts how she wrestles with the ethics of what she’s doing, but mostly justifies her profession as part of the system that keeps the stars famous. She tells tales of actors who alert the “paps” to their every move, and know how to pose when the cameras get there. Ultimately, after a few profitable years, the tick of Buhl’s biological clock drowns her desire to continue on this adventure. This is a behind-the-scenes look at the Hollywood system as it exists today, and the symbiotic relationship between the stars and the paparazzi —with guest appearances by tipsters and the police. Most pop culture fans will enjoy the read, and will be excited to discuss whose side they’re on. An interesting point of discussion for a journalism classes.—Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD

Categories: Library News

A Nightmare that Walks like a Girl

Mon, 2014-06-30 12:27

Is Melanie a monster or a prodigy? The title of this post refers to the first of our thrilling reads of the day, The Girl with all the Gifts, in which one character, Sergeant Parks, thinks of Melanie as “the nightmare-that-walks-like-a-girl.” He’d rather deal with blood-thirsty zombies than with something that walks and talks like a polite girl, but isn’t quite human. The reader, on the other hand, becomes completely enamoured with Melanie–she’s smart and sweet and loves to learn.

It’s hard to gush about this book without giving too much away, and it’s the twists and turns that make it a lot of fun. That said, the characters and their development make it excellent. This is a postapocalyptic novel with elements of gory horror–human (Dr. Caldwell’s cruel single-mindedness) and zombie (wait ’til you get to the feral children!) and fungal. It is also a contemplation of what makes someone (or something) human. I think teens will appreciate the thriller pacing as well as Melanie’s search for self-acceptance, identity and place in the world.

Robogenesis is the sequel to Daniel H. Wilson’s blockbuster, Alex Award-winning hit, Robopocalypse. (In between, he published Amped, a standalone also recommended for teens.) Rumors are swirling around Steven Spielberg’s intentions to get down to work on the movie version of Robopocalypse. It has been on hold since 2011.

Wilson also edited a short story collection in partnership with John Joseph Adams that published in April titled Robot Uprisings. Another great choice for teen collections, especially given the list of authors included–Hugh Howey, Ernest Cline, Cory Doctorow, Julianna Baggott, Nnedi Okorafor and Robin Wasserman, to name a few.

CAREY, M. R. The Girl with all the Gifts. 416p. Orbit. Jun. 2014. Tr. $25. ISBN 9780316278157. LC 2013945113.  

In this thought-provoking postapocalyptic zombie novel, Melanie lives with other children her age, one to a cell. They go to school in a single classroom down the hall. To get there they are muzzled and tied into wheelchairs at gunpoint. Melanie loves school, especially the days when Miss Justineau is the teacher. Sergeant Parks doesn’t approve of Helen Justineau’s affection for her students. To make his point, one day he rolls up his sleeve and puts his skin close to a couple kids. They begin drooling, losing all ability to think beyond the need to bite him. The children live on an army base where Dr. Caldwell is researching the key to what makes these subjects different from the mindless, animalistic flesh-eating hungries that took over the world 20 years earlier when most of humanity was infected by a virulent fungus. When the base is attacked, Sergeant Parks, Miss Justineau, Dr. Caldwell, and Melanie flee together toward Beacon—a haven where most of England’s uninfected live. As they travel through the devastated countryside, Melanie learns about the larger world, and understands that she is a danger to her companions. Miss Justineau tells her she is not a monster, but Melanie’s new self-awareness is heartbreaking. At the same time, Melanie discovers new powers and skills within herself that prove critical to the group’s survival. Just what is she? Could she be the answer that will save humankind? This unpredictable novel goes beyond genre expectations thanks to its characters, especially Helen Justineau and Melanie, and one doozy of a twist ending.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

WILSON, Daniel H. Robogenesis. 384p. Doubleday. Jun. 2014. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9780385537094. LC  2014000720.  

Just when you thought the world was safe from the AI-driven robot revolution that failed to destroy all humans in Robopocalypse (Doubleday, 2011), a sequel has arrived to let us know we are not safe—not at all. The robs are still out there and so is the super intelligence that organizes and programs them to kill, or in some cases, take over human bodies and turn them into…ZOMBIES. The first robot war is over and the super intelligence is disabled, but somehow the robots have gone rogue, human survivors have turned against each other, and neither is safe from the manipulations of the new super intelligent computer AR8, who knows the destruction of all humankind will ensure its own domination of earth. Human survival depends on a coalition of ragtag veterans of the first war and the children called modifieds, who during the war were implanted with supersensory robotics and now possess unusual powers of communication and strength that may bring down AR8. But it seems the only thing truly capable of destroying AR8 is an even greater intelligence. Teens who enjoyed the first book will find the tense action, fast pace, and the imaginatively clever robot creations totally satisfying.  However, those who have not read the previous title might find it challenging to decipher the circumstances and characters in this entry. Best to put both on the sci-fi summer reading list.—John Sexton, Greenburgh Public Library, NY

Categories: Library News