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On the Road

Thu, 2014-09-18 09:17

All We Had is a road trip novel that follows a mother and daughter from Los Angeles to the East Coast. In Lucky Us, a family moves from Ohio to Hollywood, then back East to New York. There are two main appeal elements in these road novels. All We Had exemplifies the first–grappling to survive and find security. Lucky Us is about survival, but even more about the other element–reinvention. 

Annie Weatherwax is a sculptor and visual artist. All We Had is her debut novel, narrated by precocious 13-year-old Ruthie. Ruthie and her 29-year-old mother are drifters who end up in a small town in upstate New York when their old Ford finally gives out. Weatherwax characterizes her writing as “comic realism,” and uses the 2008 economic downturn as the novel’s backdrop. This small family is struggling just enough to be hit hardest by the recession. Last year my school had a “teach-in” on hunger in America, which focused on food insecurity. I cannot help but see this novel as an ideal literary example of this problem. For more, take a look at the Washington Post review, which focuses on this element in detail.

Katie Holmes is set to play the mother in a movie version of All We Had. It also marks her directorial debut. Josh Boone, director of The Fault in Our Stars, will adapt the script.

Amy Bloom’s Lucky Us is set in the 1940s, which gives this lively family story of continuous reinvention a wartime backdrop. NPR calls its half-sisters “as endearing and comically annoying as any you’ll find in contemporary fiction.” The older of the two teens wants to be an actress, and even does well in Hollywood for a brief time. She has the ability to make herself into whatever she needs to be to survive. Readers will be thrilled by the unpredictability and life to this story.

Other road trip novels? Don’t forget The Last Days of California, which we reviewed earlier this year.

WEATHERWAX, Annie. All We Had. 272p. Scribner. Aug. 2014. Tr $24. ISBN 9781476755205.  

At first blush, a story about a young girl and her mother making a road trip from Los Angeles to Boston with the last few dollars they have may seem like a repeat of other novels.  However, All We Had rises above that trend to highlight Ruthie’s journey from hopelessness to hope, from being with only her mother to finding a family in a way that readers will remember long after the last page. Ruthie is the only good thing Rita has going for her; she would do anything for her daughter. And that means anything – running out on landlords and lovers, making the move East (because Rita just knows that Ruthie is so brilliant she’ll shine at Harvard), and taking menial jobs to keep a roof over their heads. For all Rita’s sacrifices, it isn’t until they land in Fat River, Upstate New York, that either of them finds a family of sorts. It’s an odd family, from Arlene and Peter Pam to the Hansons and Miss Frankfort, but each of them reaches out to help the pair survive. Because, of course, just when things start looking up—a roof over their heads that they actually own, stability in schooling and work—things start going downhill, due to the financial reversals in this rust belt town. The struggle to build a successful life will resonate with students who have seen their families (and towns) suffer financial hardship.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, CT

BLOOM, Amy. Lucky Us. 234p. Random. Jul. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9781400067244. LC 2013017648.  

After her mother’s death in 1939, 16-year-old Iris meets Eva, the daughter of her father’s mistress when Eva is abandoned to this family’s care. The father Eva knew only on Sundays and the occasional Thursday accepts her into their family and Iris and Eva become sisters. Iris, intent on pursuing her dream of becoming a Hollywood star, and Eva, equally intent on staying close to Iris, discover one day that their father is a cheat and liar, so they pack up and head west to follow Iris’s dream. The budding actress makes it into the movie business and encounters the rarified world of 1940s Hollywood. As the siblings meet interesting people and begin to make a life for themselves, their father joins them. Sex is the medium by which stars often progress and Iris discovers that lust and love aren’t always the same thing. After Iris is blackballed by her jealous girlfriend, the family heads to New York. Disguising themselves as a governess and an English butler, Iris and her father gain employment with the wealthy Torelli family. This quirky story is told in short chapters from differing character viewpoints. It is for older teen readers who can handle mature sexual themes. Adroit writing keeps readers willing to accept this eccentric and unconventional family for who they are and what they do. Eva is the glue that keeps the family together and readers will root for her all the way.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

Categories: Library News

A Whole Lotta Secrets

Mon, 2014-09-15 07:00

Today we begin with a psychological mystery then highlight two thrillers, one suspense-filled, another action-packed.

I am excited to recommend Tana French’s new Dublin Murder Squad novel to teen readers. I have enjoyed French’s novels since her 2007 debut, In the Woods. She is among the finest literary crime novelists writing today, and in The Secret Place she takes on the world of an all-girls boarding school and the intricacies of female friendships. This is not a book for readers who want fast answers and non-stop action. Rather, it takes the reader gradually deeper and deeper into the lives and minds of its subjects. I tried to make this clear in my review—it will reward patient readers who are attuned to detail and nuance. 

While part of a series, it definitely stands alone. This is particularly true for teen readers because the only relationships that continue from past books concern two of the detectives. Series readers will enjoy watching these two men struggle with their new circumstances, but new readers won’t miss the extra layer.

For your suspense thriller readers, and particularly those who enjoy a good serial killer book, we have The Butcher by Jennifer Hillier. This is one of those stories where supposedly the serial killer was stopped years ago but, yikes, they may have fingered the wrong man. Extra points here for the Seattle foodie scene and the twists and turns of both the central plot and the troubled romance between the two main protagonists.

In The Furies, we find a non-stop action thriller with a science fiction angle–turns out that witches are the result of a genetic mutation. Sarah’s review, below, does a great job of describing the reading experience here, and which readers will enjoy it and why.

FRENCH, Tana. The Secret Place. 451p. (Dublin Murder Squad). Viking. Sept. 2014. Tr. $27.95. ISBN 9780670026326. LC 2014004500.  

Four best friends boarding at the exclusive St. Kilda’s girl’s school outside Dublin are at the heart of French’s latest literary mystery. Chris Harper, a student at St. Colm’s, the neighboring boy’s school, was found dead on the grounds of St. Kilda’s. He’d been killed in the middle of the night, bashed in the head with a hoe. One year after his death, a St. Kilda’s student, Holly Mackey, brings new evidence to Stephen Moran, a young detective stuck in Cold Cases who yearns to work Murder. Moran seizes his chance, and takes it directly to the lead detective on the Harper case, Antoinette Conway. The Secret Place has multiple meanings. For one, it refers to the cypress grove where Chris’s body was found, which is also the place Holly and her three best friends, Julia, Selena and Rebecca, hang out late at night, sneaking out of the dorm using a stolen key. It was there that they all vowed never to date St. Colm’s boys. Now, a year later, intensive interviews by Moran and Conway reveal cracks in their sisterhood. This is a detailed psychological study of the players that slowly reveals the who and why of the murder. By including chapters that focus on the girls, in the past and present, along with chapters from Moran’s point of view, French achieves a stunning depth of motivation and consequence. She clearly understands the secrets and social dynamics of girls and the pure beauty of first love. Strong, patient readers will be entranced.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

HILLIER, Jennifer. The Butcher. 352p. S. & S. July 2014. Tr $25. ISBN 9781476734217. LC 2013047237.  

In the 1980s, policeman Edward Shank became a hero and eventually the police chief for gunning down “The Beacon Hill Butcher”—a serial killer who targeted young women. Now he’s moving into an assisted-living home and his grandson is given the family home. But Matt, an up-and-coming Seattle chef, makes a gruesome discovery in the backyard—something that makes him question his familial ties and his own sanity. Meanwhile, Matt’s girlfriend, Sam, is researching The Butcher for a true crime book because she believes he murdered her mother, two years after The Butcher was caught. As Sam arrives closer to the truth, she wonders if the discovery of her mother’s killer will be her own downfall.  Even though readers know the identity of the killer at the very beginning, Hillier fills the novel with mystery, suspense, and plenty of surprises. Even the love story is unexpected. Matt and Sam have their flaws, which make them feel more real, and the nonstop action is set firmly in the fascinating foodie world of Seattle. Matt’s emotional turmoil is scary and heartbreaking, and the troubled relationship between Matt and Sam will resonate with teens. Give this to readers who love fast-moving serial killer books like Geoffrey Girard’s Cain’s Blood (Touchstone, 2013) and Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers (Little, Brown, 2012).— Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

ALPERT, Mark. The Furies: A Thriller. 312p. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne Bks. Apr. 2014. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9781250021359. LC 2013031726.  

John Rogers is depressed and lonely—but all that changes when he meets Ariel at a bar in Greenwich Village. He falls for her instantly, but their romantic tryst is interrupted by gunshots. John, a former gang member and military boot camp dropout, knows more about evading bullets than the average person, but Ariel is a professional. Ariel’s family are called the Furies—witches (but don’t call them that!) who have discovered the fountain of youth as a protein mutation that can only be passed through females. John is fine with Ariel’s explanations of the violence and her life story that spans hundreds of years—he’s in love. While many of the Furies’s male companions have initiated a rebellion, John is happy to leave his life behind and dedicate himself to Ariel and her family’s plan to save the world from evil. Readers who suspend their disbelief are in for addictive non-stop action akin to an all-night marathon of the television show 24. The reading level is low enough for quick reading, the action is fast, and the theory that real-life witches were behind many historical events is fascinating. Give this to fans of Michael Simmons’s Finding Lubchenko (Penguin, 2005), Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle (Dutton, 2014), or any medical or shoot ‘em up thrillers.—Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

Categories: Library News

Unreviewed but not Forgotten

Fri, 2014-09-12 07:00

“Hey Mark” (a hypothetical reader asks) “how do you choose what you review around here?” Unfortunately, chance and timing play a big role. There are of course hundreds of books every year that could be reviewed on this blog that we simply never hear about or never get a copy of. But what about books that we are actively expecting, but authors we know and trust? Sometimes we don’t even get to those. In some cases, there are sequels to long or short running series that we simply can’t find anything new to say about. Other sequels we know will be popular but don’t live up to the originals. Then there are authors who have written some teen-friendly adult books but their new books don’t quite have the same appeal. And of course, sometimes, we just can’t get to a book in time for a timely review.

But the point of this post is not to lament this blog’s failures, but to celebrate the bounty of books available. Here are eleven books from ten authors that you should know about: none of them is for every teen, but there are definitely teen readers out there for every one of these.

Sequels:

Hallinan, Timothy, Herbie’s Game (Soho)

I reviewed the second of the four Junior Bender mysteries, and I read and quite enjoyed the third as well, but I didn’t see enough difference between the two to merit another review, so I skipped this most recent title. Nevertheless, I think there’s a lot of teen appeal in these mysteries, especially for young film buffs, and I would recommend any of them unreservedly.

Mead, Richelle, The Immortal Crown (Dutton)

We ended our review of Gameboard of the Gods by declaring that fans would be “waiting for the sequels” but we nevertheless managed to miss this, the first sequel. If your teens love Mead and loved Gameboard, be sure to pick this one up.

Mishani, D.A., A Possibility of Violence  (Harper)

I was quite enamored of Mishani’s first Avraham Avraham mystery, The Missing File, and was particularly excited by the idea of a Hebrew mystery novelist. Unfortunately, I didn’t see quite enough teen interest in the first book to review the second, but if you’ve had a different experience, by all means take a look at this second in an ongoing series.

Wooding, Chris, Iron Jackal (Titan)

We absolutely loved the first two volumes in Woodin’s steampunky Ketty Jay series, and it’s kind of inexcusable that we managed to miss reviewing this third volume. But miss it we did, as it came out over six months ago here in the US (not to mention three years ago in Britain). Do yourself a favor and pick this one up, and keep your eyes peeled for the forthcoming Ace of Skulls, which came out in Britain last year.

Waters, M.D., Prototype (Dutton)

The first half of this two part series, Archetype, got a starred review and a place on our Best Books of the Year, so far list. We chose not to review this, the second half, because it simply does not live up to its predecessor. However, teens who loved Archetype will want to follow-up with this sequel.

The Graphic Canon of Children’s Literature, ed. Russ Kick (Seven Stories)

We’re way behind on this series. Russ Kick’s Graphic Canon came out in three parts, moving chronologically through the Western Canon from Gilgamesh to Infinite Jest, and now he’s back with a look at the canon of children’s lit. We reviewed the first volume, and (like Archetype) gave it a star and a place on our Best of the Year, so far list. But we missed volumes 2 and 3 completely, and this year we’re missing this volume on children’s lit. Don’t let our silence be your guide. Take a look at these fabulous renditions of some of the greatest stories in history!

Authors We Love:

Oates, Joyce Carol, Carthage (Ecco)

Oates, Joyce Carol, High Crime Area: Tales of Darkness and Dread (Grove)

One novel and one story collection this year: about par for the course for Oates. I haven’t had a chance to crack open either of these books, but as I said in my review of Evil Eye last year, I pretty much recommend any and all Oates to mature readers. There is always sure to be something provocative and creepy.

Powers, Kevin, Letters Composed During a Lull in the Fighting (Little, Brown)

Powers’s The Yellow Birds was one of my favorite books of 2012, and we gave it a starred review and a place on our Best of the Year list. It was also a National Book Award finalist. Powers returns to his war experience for this poetry collection, which got good reviews and I expect to be great, but which I couldn’t quite fit into my reading schedule.

Walton, Jo, My Real Children (Tor)

Speaking of favorites, Jo Walton’s Among Others was a favorite of both myself and Angela–I can’t speak for Angela but I continue to recommend it to anyone and everyone I meet. A truly magical book, and another that made our Best of the Year list, this time in 2011. So we were both pretty excited to hear that Walton had a new novel out this year. And yet, no review. Angela read and loved it but found its teen appeal to be limited. For my part, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. But fans of Among Others should know that it’s out there and please let us know if you think it has teen appeal.

Webb, Wendy, The Vanishing (Hyperion)

We reviewed Webb’s second novel, The Fate of Mercy Alban, last year and this one sounds fabulously creepy, but yet again lost out to the vicissitudes of time–a January release and now too many other books piled on top to get to it.

Categories: Library News

Court Intrigue

Wed, 2014-09-10 07:00

Whence our fascination with royalty? Back in my high school American History classes, I used to joke that ever since winning the Revolution, Americans have been trying their hardest to make the President into a king–a joke I find less and less funny as we are treated to ever-expanding executive power and a seemingly inevitable flip-flopping of dynasties–Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama interregnum, Clinton(?).

Whatever the historical case, it’s obvious that we Americans love entertainment about monarchs, whether it is high-brown Oscar-winning films like The King’s Speech and Return of the King, or more lurid TV fantasies like The Tudors and Game of Thrones. I chose those examples advisedly as the interest in royalty seems well split between historical fiction and high fantasy. And–what do you know?–today we review one example of each.

In The Shadow Queen, we have a historical piece set in the court of The Sun King, Louis XIV of France, primarily featuring the theatrical players but never skimping on the court intrigue. In Half a King, we have a fantasy which recalls Game of Thrones, particularly everyone’s favorite character, Tyrion Lannister.

GULLAND, Sandra. The Shadow Queen. 321p. charts. glossary. Doubleday. Apr. 2014. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780385537520. LC 2013013829.

In 1651 France, Claudette and her family struggle to survive as players in the Theater—reviled by society as outcasts even as they are loved for the entertainment they provide. Scraping a life together, they travel from village to village, entertaining nobility and villager alike. In one of these villages Claudette comes into contact with Athénaïs, the beautiful daughter of the Duke de Montemart. Life on the road becomes harder after Claudette’s father dies suddenly and the young heroine provides the stability her broken-hearted mother needs by taking on odd jobs around the theater, and watching over her mentally challenged brother. From behind the curtain one evening, Claudette again sees Athénaïs, who remembers their earlier encounter and takes Claudette in as her “personal attendant”. Athénaïs uses Claudette to help her plot her way through the affections of the Sun King: Louis XIV. The protagonist is forced to rely on her own acting skills to navigate the behind-the-scenes treachery that pervades the King’s Court. Students who love the theater will be fascinated by the history of the French theater presented here. Molière, Racine, playwrights, actors, stagecraft, and invention: all provide the backdrop and story within which Claudette lives. She finds out that not all acting is done on the stage, and must balance the often grotesque and surreal world of the Theater with the lavish—and often equally grotesque—world of Court.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

ABERCROMBIE, Joe.  Half a King. 352p. (Shattered Sea). Del Rey. Jul. 2014. Tr $26. ISBN 9780804178327. LC 2014017107

Yarvi, the son of the king, is training to be a minister, the king’s chief advisor. He unexpectedly finds himself thrust onto the throne after his father and brother are murdered. Yarvi is called half a king because of his disability—he has only one good hand, the other having just the stub of a finger. Yarvi’s jealous uncle lures him into a trap, planning to kill him so he can take Yarvi’s place on the throne.  He barely survives the assassination attempt; left badly beaten and needing to hide his identity,  the protagonist is found by a warrior and sold into slavery. He is forced to be an oarsman on a trading ship captained by a brutal drunkard. A shipwreck gives him and several other slaves the chance to escape. Yarvi was despised by his father and bullied by his brother, and never wanted to be king. Now his thirst for revenge and his toughening through surviving slavery and other trials drive him back to his homeland to claim his birthright. Though physically challenged, his wit and skills in languages and negotiating are strong, allowing him and his fellow slaves—who are surprisingly skilled at fighting—to handle the many obstacles between them and revenge. Fans of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones will no doubt think of Tyrion Lannister as they read about Yarvi.  Dramatic exploits, multiple betrayals, some elegant plot twists, and no shortage of humor make this a sure winner with fans of fantasy and adventure.—Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, CA

Categories: Library News

Exotic Global Settings

Mon, 2014-09-08 07:38

The Caribbean, Tasmania, Afghanistan… Sense of place and culture dominate today’s books, two novels and one collection of poetry.

Tiphanie Yanique is a native of St. Thomas who now divides her time between the Virgin Islands and Brooklyn. I enjoyed learning (from the author’s website) that both her mother and grandmother were librarians in the Virgin Islands. Her first novel, Land of Love and Drowning, is as much about the Virgin Islands as it is about three generations of the family on which it focuses. This sprawling book incorporates elements of magical realism, and effectively incorporates war, racism and civil rights as it weaves its way through the 20th century.

Past the Shallows takes the reader to the coast of Tasmania and another family, this one a trio of brothers dealing with a difficult father. This is also Favel Parrett’s first novel, and it has won acclaim in her native Australia for its spare writing, family dynamics, dramatic fishing scenes, and vivid ocean setting.

I am the Beggar of the World is a collection of poems from Afghanistan. More specifically, landays–two-line, 22-syllable folk poems by Afghani women, mostly anonymous. Translator Eliza Griswold interprets the poems for the reader, and the black & white photography that accompanies them only heightens the book’s power and physical beauty. For anyone studying Afghanistan, this collection offers unusual insight. For more about the book, The Christian Science Monitor and Slate both offer glimpses into its genesis, and Griswold’s introduction is available on Poetry Daily.

YANIQUE, Tiphanie. Land of Love and Drowning. 368p. bibliog. maps. Riverhead. Jul. 2014. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9781594488337. LC 2013044381.  

The Virgin Islands is the main character in this debut novel. Place and time are central to the novel’s chapters focusing on the lives of Captain Owen Bradshaw and his family. Saint Thomas, like its inhabitants, comes of age after it transfers from Danish to American rule in the early 1900s. Multiple narrators, each with his or her own distinct voice, tell the story of wealthy Captain Owen Bradshaw and his beautiful but “wild” wife, Antoinette; his daughters, Eeona and Anette; and his son Jacob by his mistress, the magical Rebecca. When Bradshaw’s ship sinks, taking the lives of his islander crew with him, the island and his family are changed forever. Each child searches for the love that seems just out of their reach. Eeona longs to escape the islands, Anette craves the security of a committed relationship, and Jacob falls in love with the wrong woman. History is reflected in their lives and times: when World War II breaks out, Jacob and his friends head to the mainland as soldiers only to face a racism that did not exist on the island; the changing world reaches the islands with the introduction of TV; the rise of civil rights on the mainland fuels a growing rebellion on St. Thomas for recognition of islander rights to their own land. Mature themes weave throughout these stories, including sexuality and incest. Recommend to teens who enjoy strong characters, a tumultuous historical time period, and a setting that embraces music, madness, and Caribbean magic.—Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

PARRETT, Favel. Past the Shallows. 238p. Washington Square Pr. Apr. 2014. pap. $15. ISBN 9781476754871.  

Three brothers deal in their own way with secrets, tragedy, and death in this coming-of-age novel. As the eldest and therefore the only one to have moved out, Joe is the most removed, while Miles feels the full responsibility of caring for his younger brother Harry, who is more concerned with candy than in putting food on the table. Each brother has a complex relationship with their father, who is bitter and resentful toward them. These authentic relationships will resonate with teens regardless of the sibling with whom they most identify. Although the novel starts off slowly, it builds gradually until the subtle tension explodes, much like a crashing wave. Those who enjoy a strong sense of place will delve into the unpredictable Tasmanian coast and the small town that lives off of it. The ocean scent practically radiates off the page with the images of surfing waves and fighting off sharks portrayed through lyrical language. For a family that has been pushed to the edge, fishing is a way of life and it often pushes the boundaries of what is considered ethical behavior and what is necessary for survival. This is recommended for fans of tense, evocative writing that sweeps readers to a foreign place.—Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ

I Am the Beggar of the World: Landays from Contemporary Afghanistan. tr. by Eliza Griswold. photos by Seamus Murphy. 150p. Farrar. Apr. 2014. Tr $24. ISBN 9780374191870. LC 2013035179.  

When Griswold, a poet and journalist, learned about an Afghan girl who burned herself after being forbidden to compose poetry, she and photographer Murphy traveled to Afghanistan to discover more. She found that the women know many traditional short poems by heart and create new ones to share. The verses, or landays, are part of an ancient tradition practiced in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The two-line poems cover any topic from love and marriage to drone strikes and violence, and are adapted to changes in the women’s lives. Some pieces are sad, such as one in which a young woman says, “You sold me to an old man, father./May God destroy your home; I was your daughter.” Some are racy: “Come, let’s lie here thigh to thigh./ If you climb on, I won’t cry.”  Some quite modern: “I lost you on Facebook yesterday./I’ll find you on Google today.” The competent translations and the brief explanations add to readers’ appreciation. The landays are presented in three sections:  Love, Grief, and War. The last section includes many upsetting photographs of dead soldiers. “May God destroy your tank and your drone,/you who’ve destroyed my village, my home.” Songs blame America for the destruction, although women realize that their lives are easier without the Taliban. Most young, urban Afghans have smartphones and play anti-American songs in case they are stopped; the phone might be smashed if a popular western song played. The story is complicated, but Griswold and Murphy have created a fascinating work.—Karlan Sick, Library Consultant, New York City

Categories: Library News

New Books from Three Popular Authors

Tue, 2014-09-02 07:10

Rainbow Rowell’s many, many teen readers are definitely not the target audience for her summer novel, Landline, but no matter. Rowell’s signature clever dialogue and snappy one-liners are in generous supply as one women tries to save her marriage. And while a failing marriage is not a favorite literary topic among teens, this novel also takes the reader back to the college romance that began it all.

I doubt many teens know Chris Bohjalian by name, but he has written more than a few books with plenty of appeal, including The Double Bind (which uses The Great Gatsby in twisty, original ways), The Light in the Ruins, and The Night Strangers. He seems to be constantly challenging himself, moving from genre to genre effortlessly. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is about a teenager who runs away after her parents are involved in a terrible accident. She faces homelessness, drug abuse, and prostitution, but also finds the possibility for redemption.

Emma Straub is going to be a new author for most young adult readers (though you may know her for last year’s Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures). I picked up The Vacationers toward the end of the summer mostly because I had heard such good things and thought it would be a light, quick vacation read for myself, partly because I had this niggling feeling that the potential for teen appeal was there. Well, I am so glad I did. It’s both one of my personal favorite reads of the summer and a great recommendation for teens. I would go so far as to say that this is 2014′s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, which, after all, did end up winning an Alex Award. Both books are very funny, but they are also warm. It isn’t cruel humor. It’s truthful, respectful, and entertaining.

I think The Vacationers‘ appeal for teens lies in the pitch-perfect depiction of how it feels to be a teen living within a quirky family. Straub gets everything right — how embarrassing a mother can be to her teen daughter; the desire to keep the most personal things private warring with the need to tell someone; the mortification of making a mistake that is loudly displayed on Facebook; the yearning to become a completely different person once you leave parents behind and head to college.

Don’t miss it. The Vacationers was also just the book to tell my colleagues about on the first days of school when everyone asked what I read over the summer, or asked for new recommendations for them.

ROWELL, Rainbow. Landline. 308p. St. Martin’s. Jul. 2014. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781250049377. LC 2014008538.  

Georgie McCool writes for a TV sitcom in Los Angeles, and is supposed to go to Omaha for Christmas with her husband Neal and their two children . But she, along with writing partner and best friend Seth, have just gotten their big break from the network—a pilot for their own show, which is due on December 27. Neal packs up the kids and leaves without her, sending Georgie into a tailspin. (She thought he’d stay home too). She can’t face going into their house alone and goes home to mom.  Strangely, the landline in her old room connects her to a Neal from the past—right after college, during the holidays, on another occasion when he also left her to go to Omaha and it wasn’t clear if their relationship was over. Georgie knows that Neal showed up on her doorstep on Christmas Day to propose to her back then, but doesn’t know if her conversations in the present/past will change the future. Teens will miss some of the dated references to TV shows, movies, and music, as well as the experience of talking on a landline, but no matter. There’s enough witty dialogue, romance, and angst in Georgie’s relationship with Neal and sexy Seth (“He fell back against the closet, kicking it gently, then resting his foot against it like he was modeling orange chinos. (He was wearing orange chinos)”) along with fun subplots, such as the protagonist’s 18-year-old sister and a pizza delivery boy, to keep teens entertained with this enjoyable and light read.—Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, CA

BOHJALIAN, Chris. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands. 288p. Doubleday. Jul. 2014. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780385534833. LC 2013034613.  

Sixteen-year-old Emily is a high school junior in Vermont, an Emily Dickinson fan, the only child of only children, a girl with a only a few friends and some small impulse control issues. Then the nuclear plant—where her father is a lead engineer and her mother is the public relations office—has a catastrophic meltdown. Not only were both her parents onsite, and thus probably dead, but word soon leaks out that her father may have been responsible for the accident, due to being drunk on the job. Emily, certain she will be hated by the thousands who are now evacuating their homes, slips away from her teachers and classmates and sets out on her own. Now the teen is an entirely different person: she is known as Abby; she lives in a drug dealer’s apartment, or in various shelters, or in an igloo made of frozen bags of leaves; she earns quick money by “servicing” truckers at the truck stop or by stealing; she begins cutting herself. Then she meets nine-year-old Cameron, and although she never liked kids, she finds new purpose in taking care of him—until, that is, he becomes dangerously ill. Teens will be drawn into Emily’s story, which is compelling, tragic, and moving, with all of her bad decisions seemingly logical but motivated by her flawed understanding of situations.—Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County Library

STRAUB, Emma. The Vacationers. 292p. Riverhead. May 2014. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9781594631573. 2013037110.  

In this perfect concoction, family and friends come together for two weeks of summer vacation in an idyllic hillside villa on the island of Mallorca. Franny is a freelance writer who travels and writes magazine articles about the food of different regions. She’s also a determined cook and hostess, taking charge of every detail of the group’s comfort. But she’s not speaking to her husband, a magazine editor recently dismissed for sleeping with an employee only a few years older than their daughter, Sylvia. The teen cannot wait to start at Brown University in the fall, where she plans to become a completely different person. All she wants from this vacation is to lose her virginity and try to forget her best friend’s betrayal. Cue Joan (pronounced Joe-ahhhn), the gorgeous local college boy Franny has hired to tutor Sylvia in Spanish. Also in attendance, Franny’s best friend of 40 years, Charles, to provide comfort and counsel. Charles and his husband, Lawrence, are waiting to hear whether they’ve been chosen to adopt a baby boy, something about which Charles is secretly having second thoughts. Sylvia’s older brother Bobby and Bobby’s much-older girlfriend, Carmen fly in from Miami. Carmen has been trying to fit in with the family for years, but they don’t give her a chance. Straub fleshes out all of these characters, effortlessly illuminating their foibles and mistakes, mitigated by the grace of forgiveness and familial understanding. Just as a great recipe is balanced and spiced, so Straub mixes the stress and comedy of a family vacation spent in close quarters to delightful effect.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

Categories: Library News

Kill My Mother: A New Graphic Novel From Jules Feiffer

Fri, 2014-08-29 07:00

A brief account of my acquaintance with the work of Jules Feiffer:

I first became aware of Jules Feiffer through his phenomenal, and phenomenally funny, picture book Bark, George (1999). I didn’t know anything about the book or the author–I think my wife brought it home to read to the kids–but I immediately fell in love with it, and started reading it as often as I could at storytimes (both at home and at the library). A couple years later, it turns up, quite rightly in my opinion, as the ninth best picture book of all time on Betsy Bird’s Picture Book Poll for SLJ. I read a few other pictures books of Feiffer’s which were good but not great, and didn’t think much more about him.

Flash forward to January of this year. I’m looking for a book to listen to on my bike ride to work and somehow I stumble across a middle grade novel by Feiffer called A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears (1995), which turns out to be every bit as funny as Bark, George. But I still didn’t look into his career in more detail until I happened across his picture in a book about the history of comic books. It turns out he was a young (16-year-old) protege of Will Eisner, working on the famous comic The Spirit.  After working with Eisner, he went on to write comics for the Village Voice. My mind was suitably blown, first because he worked with one of the gods of comic books, and second because with the copyright dates of the first two books I read in the 1990s, I had no idea he had been writing and drawing since the 1940s.

Now I started paying attention, putting out interlibrary loan requests for his collections of comics from the Village Voice, as well as Tantrum, which can probably lay claim to being one of the first true “Graphic Novels” since it came out the year after Eisner’s Contract With God established that term. The comics are urbane and witty, in a very 60s Village Voice style, but what is clear is that Feiffer has an entirely unique style of drawing and sense of humor, and those are what have kept him going up through the present decade.

Which brings us to the work at hand. This year, Feiffer has come out with a new graphic novel, which hearkens back to his days with Eisner and The Spirit, with its noir trappings and intricate structuring. Read the review below, but suffice to say I think this is a fantastic read.  It is also, by the way, is the graphic novel I mentioned back in June as having been published too late in the year to make our Best of the Year, So Far list.

FEIFFER, Jules. Kill My Mother. illus. by author. 160p. Liveright. Aug. 2014. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9780871403148. LC 2014005844.

Newly widowed and dealing with a young daughter determined to hate her, Elsie takes up a job with her husband’s ex-partner, now a private detective, in the hopes that he will help her solve her husband’s murder. Instead, she becomes embroiled in a case involving a femme fatale named Mae and her estranged sister; and when they get too close to the truth, Elsie’s boss ends up dead as well. Flash forward 10 years and these two families of women are still entangled: Elsie works for a Hollywood studio where Mae is managing an up-and-coming star; and Elsie’s daughter Annie—now the writer of a famous radio show—befriends Mae’s sister. In a complicated set of plot machinations, the entire cast ends up at a USO show on a small island in the Pacific Ocean during World War II, and the soap opera–esque revelations begin to fly. It’s all just as silly as it sounds, as are the story’s hard-boiled, film noir trappings. But it’s also very funny and genuinely moving. Feiffer’s layouts owe much to his mentor, Will Eisner, but his spidery art and absurdist prose are all his own. Teens who have never encountered Feiffer’s style may find it off-putting at first, but the propulsive story should suck them in long enough to fully appreciate the his utterly unique talent.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

 

Categories: Library News

The Invisible Circle

Wed, 2014-08-27 14:33

For the last nine months, I’ve been on a mission to get you all to read the great French mystery novelist Paul Halter (posts here and here) and today I’m back with another of his books. As I pointed out in that first post, his books are translated and published by a tiny house called Locked Room International and I had hoped to have a review of one of their non-Halter books, specifically The Killing Needle by Henry Cauvin. Translator John Pugmire makes the case that The Killing Needle‘s detective Maximillien Heller is the “French Sherlock Holmes” which is of particular note since it was originally published 16 years before the first Holmes story. Pugmire makes a strong case that Arthur Conan Doyle may have read The Killing Needle and taken ideas for Holmes from it. I didn’t find myself quite convinced–I didn’t see anything that couldn’t have been found in various other detective stories of the period, particularly Poe’s Dupin stories. But just because I wasn’t convinced doesn’t mean I’m right.  In the end I didn’t find quite enough teen appeal in that book to review here, but if you or your teens are intrigued by the Holmes angle, or just interested in more locked room mysteries, definitely take a look at The Killing Needle.

Meanwhile, today’s review is another Halter book, this one, as I say in my review, seemingly based on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Just as in Christie’s novel, the characters are trapped on a small island as a mysterious killer goes to work, leaving only themselves as suspects. Another great mystery from Halter, perfect for fans of Christie looking to branch out.

HALTER, Paul. The Invisible Circle. tr. from French by John Pugmire. 152p. Create Space/Lockedroominternational.com. Jun. 2014. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9781497336834.

Halter, the French master of the locked-room mystery, tries his hand at a remake of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, with a bit of Arthurian legend thrown in for good measure. Madge Pearson is summoned by her creepy uncle Gerry to a deserted island-castle in Cornwall where she finds several other seemingly unrelated guests. Her uncle declares the castle to be standing on the ground of the “real” Camelot, gives each guest an Arthurian nickname, and then proceeds to predict that one of them will kill him in an impossible fashion. Sure enough, Gerry is murdered and the guests are trapped on the island, convinced that one of them must be the killer. Perhaps because of the very small cast, Halter’s characterization this time out is much more nuanced, although as always the real treat is the seemingly impossible twists and turns of the mystery as it is solved, unsolved, and solved again.  Originally published in 1996, and set 60 years before in 1936, the novel has an air of timelessness while still nicely capturing the milieu of Christie’s and Dorothy Sayers’s great novels of the 1930s, and teen fans of those authors, or Halter’s other locked-room works, should love this one.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

Categories: Library News

Fabulous Debuts

Mon, 2014-08-25 07:00

It’s the end of August, and we still have quite a few reviews of summer books to share with you. So don’t let this somewhat clumsy grouping at all diminish your regard for the following three debut novels.

I start with 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas because, well, great title! And it really does suit for this time of year. Everyone’s busy, about to jump into fall. Enter this slim, delightful novel that feels a bit like a heartfelt sitcom. Also, I can’t remember the last time we had anything set in a jazz club, or starring a 9-year-old aspiring singer. The entire novel is set within a 24-hour period and takes place in Philadelphia, author Marie-Helene Bertino‘s hometown. It is a current Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick, and the B&N site features a nice interview with the author. It will also make a great addition to your holiday book displays come December.

Next up is Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal, a Library Reads top pick. I can see recommending this novel to teens who loved The Help or The Secret Life of Bees. It also reminds me of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. The author was inspired by her love of New Orleans. As she worked to rebuild her home after Hurricane Katrina, she was determined to tell a story of the city and what makes it unique, including its culture and the mix of people who live in close proximity to one another. Read more on the author’s website. This is also a great choice for teens who love books featuring food, for Dollbaby is full of traditional New Orleans dishes.

And finally, for a complete change of pace, let Lauren Quick usher you and your teens into the Halloween season with The Quick, an engrossing, multi-layered, unpredictable Victorian vampire novel. Frankly, this is a spoiler, because it takes quite a while for the novel to reveal its monsters. But its twists and turns will be just the thing for horror readers, especially those willing to tackle a long novel like The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which made a big splash with a few dedicated readers in my library when it came out.

BERTINO, Marie-Helene. 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas. 272p. Crown. Aug. 2014. Tr. $25. ISBN 9780804140232. LC 2013048943.  

It’s 2 A.M. on December 30, New Year’s Eve Eve. Within the next 24 hours, Lorca must find enough money to pay off several fines levied on his jazz club, The Cat’s Pajamas (among other problems: serving underage patrons, people living in the club, and illegal fireworks). Adding to the pressure is his son, who just wants to play with the house band. Later that day, Madeleine (who loves to sing, as did her deceased mother) is expelled from school because a bully ruined her caramel apple, and she—foul of mouth and fast of fist—retaliated; now all she wants to do is find The Cat’s Pajamas and sing, just as her mother did. The young woman’s teacher, Sabrina, feels somewhat responsible for not defending Madeleine, but is even more nervous about seeing Ben, who years ago was the worst prom date ever, and other high school friends at dinner. The three narratives intertwine as the day unfolds, and backstories for each are told in flashbacks and memories. By 2 A.M. on December 31, the protagonists’ paths converge at the club. As so often happens in life, the rhythm and pacing of these lives changes—sometimes things are resolved, sometimes left hanging. A great read for those who like realistic, slice-of-life fiction that doesn’t move at a fast pace but still manages to pack a lot in.—Laura Pearle, Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, CT

MCNEAL, Laura Lane. Dollbaby. 337p. Viking/Pamela Dorman Bks. Jul. 2014. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9780670014736. LC 2013048523.  

This debut novel opens in 1964 when Liberty Bell (Ibby), just shy of her 12th birthday, is dumped by her mother at her unknown paternal grandmother’s somewhat rundown mansion in New Orleans. Ibby’s beloved father has just died and her mother, needing to “figure this whole thing out,” takes off without so much as a backward glance. Ibby is welcomed to her grandmother Fannie’s house by Dollbaby, who along with her mother Queenie, work for Fannie. So begins a remarkable eight-year period for Ibby. Fannie is eccentric, loving, and loyal, but unfortunately needs to make an occasional visit to the local asylum when her grief over past tragedies gets the better of her. She is a notorious sports better who makes quite a good living from her predictions, and hence is known all over New Orleans. Dollbaby and her family have tragedies of their own, but are a loving and solid force in Ibby’s life. They help her see and feel the racial unrest of New Orleans in the ‘60s, but also help redefine for her the concept of family. Teens will be drawn in by this well-crafted coming-of-age story with its plot twists and turns, flashbacks, secrets exposed, and exquisitely drawn characters. An engaging novel that is hard to put down.—Jane Ritter, Mill Valley School District,  CA

OWEN, Lauren. The Quick. 523p. Random. Jun. 2014. Tr $27. ISBN 9780812993271. LC 2013018600.  

James and Charlotte are abandoned by their father at an early age, and James welcomes the chance to travel to the city to become a writer. But London has a dark side, especially in the men who are members of a secretive club, the Aegolius. While Charlotte is stuck nursing their aging great-aunt, James and his partner encounter vampires. James ends up in the middle of a vampire turf war in Victorian London, and Charlotte must try her best to save her brother. Luckily there are others who are studying and fighting the “undid,” so Charlotte is not alone.
 The Quick is not a quick read. The debut novel consists of excerpts from books about vampires, diary entries, and narratives about James and Charlotte, and the characters they meet. Some parts are stronger than others, but invested readers will want to know what happens to the siblings. Teens who love gothic novels will eat this up. These vampires brood and kill—no sweet love story here! Give this to those who enjoyed Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel (S. & S., 2010) and who are ready for a darker, more intellectual read.—Sarah B. Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

Categories: Library News

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