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Title: On the Edge of GoneAuthor:
On the eve of the apocalypse, Denise and her mom scramble to get to a shelter that will protect them (maybe) from the comet heading their way. Somehow, they luck onto a spaceship that plans to head for the stars. But can they keep their place?First Impressions:
Ahh this was good. Denise felt so real.Later On:
Like Duyvis's first book, Otherbound, this should have felt overstuffed, if we subscribe to publishing's prevailing mindset about intersectionality. A black autistic main character? With a trans sister? And a mother suffering from mental illness and addiction? (Not to mention it all takes place in the Netherlands, with Dutch characters.) But it works, oh how it works, and the reason it works is because these are details about their characters, not the plot. This is diversity in character building done right.
The focus is on Denise's struggle to carve out a place for herself and her family on the generation ship. Sometimes the reason it's a struggle is because of familiar autism characteristics, such as difficulties with social cues, hyper-focus on specific things, and sensory overstimulation, and how all these are ramped up by
stress. However, it's also a struggle because of the shipboard bureaucracy, her mother's issues, worry over her sister, and oh yes. The world is ending.
Denise's autism neither causes nor stands apart from any of that.
And finally, at the end, Denise finds her own place. She's not given it, she's not wedged in. She does things that are a challenge for her, she succeeds because of her own talents, and she earns her spot.More: Waking Brain CellsDisability in Kidlit
Title: See How They Run
Author: Ally Carter
Summary: Grace has finally discovered the truth about her mother's death, but it was a lot more complex than even she thought. Secret societies and centuries-old conspiracies swirl around her as more disasters, both international and personal, loom ahead.
First Impressions: This took forever to get up and running but after that it was a pretty fast read. Still, it suffered from middle-book-syndrome. Too much left over from the first book, too many loose threads for the benefit of the third book. Agh.
Later On: I stick by my initial impression. Having read the first book a long time ago, it was hard to dredge up the details, and there were a lot of loose threads left waving at the end, clearly for the benefit of the next book. I was surprised that she killed off one character - I thought for sure he was going to stick around and be the third in a love triangle.
More: Book Nut
Title: The Lucy Variations
Author: Sara Zarr
Source: Local Library
Summary: Lucy was a piano prodigy who dramatically and publicly quit music about six months ago, to the rage and disappointment of her mother and grandfather. When her little brother (also being groomed to musical greatness) gets a new piano teacher, Lucy finds herself yearning to go back to the instrument. But the thought of letting herself in for the pressure of performing and achieving is still horrifying, and how can she have one without the other?
First Impressions: I'm glad Zarr didn't go the route of a full-on affair with Lucy and Will, but just brushed up against it. The characters are nicely complex and flawed.
Later On: Sara Zarr is one of those auto-TBR authors for me. She presents characters that are realistic, bumping up against other characters that are realistic, and never goes the obvious route. Lucy's relationship with Will is more about friendship and music, sort of leaning in the direction of sexual/romantic, but never quite getting there. (Phew.) Also, it never quite gets there because (spoilerish) Lucy realizes that Will is not quite the person she thought he was.
Lucy's relationship with music is a bit more tricky and Zarr handles that with compassion and shades of grey as well. Lucy loves music itself. After months of not even playing a note, she misses it like you miss the love of your life. But for her, music is wrapped around with her relationship with her mother and her grandfather, and even her dead grandmother. Their reactions to her dramatic departure from the public eye were anger and disappointment and feelings of betrayal (here we put all this effort into your education and this is how you repay us??) Lucy of course would rather do anything than return to music because it would mean they were right that she would miss it and want it back.
(I think Liz Burns put it best when she said they basically all went, "FINE!" "FINE!" and went off into different rooms to sulk and glare at each other.)
I loved how Lucy finds a way through all the morass of family expectations to work out what she wants and is prepared to do.
More: A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy
Bookshelves of Doom includes this book and a brief review on a roundup of piano-prodigy stories, so if that element appeals to you, here's some more reading.
Title: The Fallout
Author: SA Bodeen
Source: Local Library
Summary: After living for six years in an underground bunker, mistakenly believing that the world had ended aboveground (and that his twin perished in the apocalypse), Eli and his family are trying to readjust to the real world - which was not destroyed. But their father's deception isn't over yet.
First Impressions: A pretty reasonable teen suspense novel, if a little on the quiet side for the genre. I really liked that Eli is very much a caretaker of his younger brothers and sisters, and in some ways his older sister. This nurturing aspect isn't one you see in teen male characters enough.
Later On: I think you really have to have read Bodeen's prequel, The Compound, to understand a lot of the family undercurrents that are moving underneath this story, particularly the messy stew of guilt and resentment that festers between Eli and his twin brother as they try to readjust to having each other again.
I think this did wrap up a lot of the threads from the earlier book, especially the uneasy adjustment to actually living outside the bunker again. The subplot about their older sister's parentage felt a little tacked on until it folded into the main story about their father's deceptions and machinations.
More: I couldn't find a review to share from my blogroll, probably because this is three years old. If you reviewed this, let me know!
Title: The Scorpion Rules
Author: Erin Bow
Summary: Far in the future, most wars have been suppressed by a world-level AI, who holds children of world leaders hostage and kills them if their parents declare war on each other. Greta is one of these "prisoners of peace", resigned to her lot, resolved to face her possible fate with dignity. Into her calm, ordered existence comes Elian, neither resigned nor dignified, and shakes her world down to its foundations.
First Impressions: THIS DESTROYED ME ON AN EMOTIONAL LEVEL OH HELP
Later On: Now that I've calmed down.
This is an ugly book.
This is a beautiful book.
This is a book about people and AIs and countries and politics that are all ugly and beautiful and flawed and amazing. My favorite character was Tallis, the megalomaniac AI who holds all their lives in his digital hand, and somehow manages to convince you that his approach actually makes sense. Until you remember that he's a megalomaniac AI who's basically holding the entire world hostage. And then he's still actually one of my favorite characters.
My favorite thing about it was that Elian was not Greta's love interest. He becomes very special to her. He forces her to rethink the world and herself, but the love story is between her and fellow princess/prisoner Xie. That said, their love story never would have happened except for the way that Greta's worldview changes after Elian comes on the scene, so it's all interwoven in the most beautiful of ways.
I'll be honest. If you weren't able to handle the Hunger Games' level of brutality and harrowing personal choices, you will struggle with The Scorpion Rules. But this is a book that's worth the discomfort and the emotional destruction, for the questions it asks about duty, politics, personal freedom, and the individual's obligation to the world.
More: A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy
Title: Earth Girl
Author: Janet Edwards
Source: Local Library
Summary: Born with a rare allergy to anywhere besides planet Earth, Jarra is shackled to the home soil, mocked and derided by the rest of humanity who are living among the stars. Tired of being called an ape and a throwback, she pretends to be a regular human when she enters college (an archaeological program that takes place in the ruins of New York City), but it's a deception that can't last forever.
First Impressions: Really interesting world and setup, but I felt distanced from the characters and stakeless.
Later On: For a girl with so many roadblocks supposedly in her way, Jarra sure seemed to sail right through all her difficulties, including her budding relationship with fellow student and non-"ape" Fian. She was also good at everything, although the author provided excellent logic for it due to her Earth upbringing.
The world-building was pretty nifty and intricate, even if the author did occasionally bring the whole story to a screeching halt to tell us about the war between Planet A and Planet B that did Thing C to the interplanetary relations.
I guess my reaction to this could be summed up with "the things that annoyed me and the things that the author gave us good reasons for were, in fact, the same damn things, WTF."
More: Charlotte's Library articulates some of my feelings on this, and also brings the perspective of an Actual Archaeologist.
Title: Spinning Starlight
Author: R.C. Lewis
Summary: A retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's The Wild Swans - iiiiiiin spaaaaaaaaaaace. Liddi is the youngest daughter of a famous family of inventors, one who has so far failed to make her mark. After her many brothers are kidnapped and imprisoned between dimensions Liddi escapes her home planet and flees to one that's been cut off from the rest of the system for eons. She's still cursed to silence by a chip in her throat that will kill her brothers if she speaks a word, and she somehow must find a way to free her brothers.
First Impressions: I liked the inclusion of Liddi's fame and her mental newscasts. The plot spent a lot of time floundering around on the new planet before she actually started doing things though.
Later On: This didn't stick with me very well, but I thought the whole idea of different planets and the brothers being caught in hyperspace wormholes as a stand-in for transformation into swans was a neat one. I always enjoy a fairy tale retelling, especially when things are tweaked to fit into the world they're set in.
More: I had a terrible time finding reviews of this amongst my favorite blogs. If you reviewed it, let me know!
Title: Daughters Unto Devils
Author: Amy Lukavics
Summary: Pregnant (what was with me and the pregnant girls this month?) and trying to hide it, Amanda Verner goes with her parents and her family to what they think will be a wonderful new homestead on the prairie. AHAHAHA. They are soooooo wrong.
First Impressions: This was horrific. And the ending was a complete downer. Pitfall of the genre.
Later On: Somehow I keep reading horror novels even when I know how much I hate the darkness of them. So take this review with that particular grain of salt. It's not the gore I mind so much (although this one was pretty extreme in this book, both directly and by way of horrifying images), but the creeping feeling that the dark is undefeatable and only rarely escapable. However, if that's what you like, this is the book for you.
Aside from that, this didn't hang together terribly well for me, and the explanations furnished about why various characters acted the way they did were too little, too late. And I would have liked a little history about why that patch of prairie was particularly haunted or cursed.
More: Bookshelves of Doom reviewed this for Kirkus and she liked it a whole lot more than I did.
This is a spoilerriffic review, you guys. So, if you don't like that, accept that I liked the book, because I did and I'm still thinking about it a little.
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Summary: Sent to a madhouse (!) because she's pregnant (!!) by her father (!!!!!!!!!!), a girl escapes, begins to help a doctor solve crimes, and takes control of her own life.
First Impressions: This was very interesting but the ending troubled me somewhat.
Later On: Okay, you know from that premise that's it's not going to be sunshine and roses. (Slight spoiler; she miscarries, which is one of the events that prompts her to escape from the asylum and start working with the doctor.) But this was a dark book, folks. It deals with profiling a serial killer, and with her revenge on the father that put her in this situation.
And yet it was a well-deserved darkness. There's an anger boiling under her surface - anger for herself, anger for her sister, for her friends, for the raw deal they've all been handed by being born women in a society that values them somewhat less than pretty dolls.
I'm somewhat relieved that it didn't go the route I expected, of having her fall in love with the doctor. In his way, he was as awful as anybody in the asylum, although not as awful as her father. While he doesn't take sexual advantage, he does see her as an extension of himself, a tool like a stethoscope or a scalpel, and he's surprised when she expresses her own wishes and desires or does something unexpected.
The ending is morally shaky (her father takes the fall for the murders they've been investigating, because she killed the real perpetrator) but emotionally satisfying, which is more important in the context of this book.A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy (she's way better at being not-spoilery than me)
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Summary: Privileged, spoiled girl at the turn of the century finds her world turned upside down when her father is murdered and she seeks to solve it. Also journalism and feminism and a love story with a young journalist.
First Impressions: So conflicted about this book. Really, I am. On the one hand, the mystery was . . . not at all mysterious. On the other, the feminism was so real. (Also, the end. Seriously LOTR syndrome as far as ends go.)
Later On: I keep going back and forth between whether the MC was realistically naive or just groan-worthy dumb. One that kept coming up in discussions with other readers was how she missed that a house was a brothel and women were prostitutes, in spite of being familiar with the writings of Nelly Bly. Actually I thought this was very realistic because it's one thing to read about something like that, and completely another to identify it in the wild.
I also appreciated that she faced realistic consequences for her choices throughout the book, both from her family and the society she was raised in, and from the new friends she's made in the underbelly of New York City.
And yeah. So. Many. Endings. Every story thread and character had to be wrapped up with its own scene and imagined future.
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Summary: A 14-year-old farm girl runs away from home and pretends to be older so she can get a lucrative job with a Jewish family. As she works for and learns from them, she comes to know more about her own Catholic faith and herself.
First Impressions: In spite of the kerfuffle, I found this to be a very thoughtful examination of faith and how faiths intersect. Also I loved her voice.
Later On: I still feel strongly that this is a great book about faith, about growing up, and about learning how to think for yourself and understand how little you truly know of the world. A large part of its appeal for me, personally, was how resonant her Catholicism is throughout this story. She struggles to do better and be better as a way of reconnecting with the mother she barely remembers. Sometimes this can lead to utterly cringe-inducing moments, such as when she clumsily attempts to convert one of her employers' grandchildren, believing that he will go to hell if he remains Jewish. Of course, this is discovered by the grandmother, and the resultant scene is an examination of how offensive and presumptuous it is to impose your belief system on others.
However, I'm not Jewish, and I haven't had direct experience with having to put up with the kind of painful stereotypes (cheap, rich, heathenish) that she initially applies to the family she's living with.
If you want some really good, in-depth conversation on that, and its function within this novel, and how kids may interpret that, follow the links below.
More: Heavy Medal The discussion is mostly in the comments. Also raised is a salient point about some throwaway lines from Joan about what she calls "wild indians" and what we call now Native Americans or First Nations (always my favorite of the two terms in spite of my American-ness.)
Author: Leila Sales
Summary: Arden is recklessly loyal. That's how she defines herself. But when her boyfriend ditches her on their anniversary, she takes an impulsive road trip to New York City with her best friend to meet her favorite blogger, and finds all her conceptions of everybody she's ever known getting severely shaken up.
First Impressions: Oof, this was good. Complex characters, no total villains, a girl getting to know herself. I puffy heart you Leila Sales.
Later On: For a book with so many completely smackable people, I liked this very much. Seriously - I wanted to slap every character at least once, and the main character more than once. Arden has a hell of a victim complex going on, but the flip side of her doglike loyalty was that she passively, silently resented those who didn't live up to her standards. I thought this would be the story of a girl shedding all the crappy people in her life, and instead found that it was the story of a girl learning to see the flaws in those she loves, including the mother who abandoned her, and still take them as a whole person.
More: Cuddlebuggery did not agree - or more accurately, she agreed, but she couldn't be having with the same things that actually made the story work for me.
Author: Alyssa B. Sheinmel
Source: Review copy from publisher via Edelweiss
Summary: After she loses a good portion of her face to an electrical fire and has to get a face transplant, Maisie struggles to adjust to her new life and finds some things are irrevocably changed.
First Impressions: Ahhhh. This was very good and her emotions felt tremendously realistic. I did think the breakup with Chirag was not quite as cut and dried as she thought it was.
Later On: I still think there was something of an unreliable narrator going on, where Maisie saw her breakup with Chirag as a foregone conclusion from the moment of her accident, while I saw her pushing him away during the complex emotions of her initial adjustment period and them growing apart throughout her recovery. I really appreciated how people were unsure of how to react to her, even the people she was closest to, and she found herself making friends that she never would have connected with before her injury.Ms. Yingling Reads
Author: Courtney Summers
Source: Public Library
Summary: When a popular, well-liked girl disappears, Romy Grey can't shake the feeling that there are things being hidden. But nobody will listen to her because she's the girl who accused the town golden boy of rape.
First Impressions: Oh god, is there a lot to chew on here. Agh. I may have to write about this.
Later on: While there is an outside plot, this is really the story of part of Romy's journey to better. She's not healed or fixed and she never will be, but the events of the book work to bring her to a place where she can start to see herself as someone who is worthy of her life, worthy of being listened to and respected, and worthy of love.
I find it interesting that while the boy who actually committed the crime that underpins the current-day plot was not the same boy who raped Romy, he was in the same group. But the real villains of this piece are the adults, in particular the sheriff who's clearly of the "if her skirt was too short she was asking for it" camp regarding rape. There's so much here that shows how many messages we get about girls, about sexuality, about worth, every day. This needs to go on the shelf right next to Speak for books about how girls are victimized by our society.A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy
So here's my new format. The reviews won't be quite as in depth as they once were, but I think I'd gotten to the point where I felt such a pressure to say deep things that I wasn't saying anything at all. I have several months' worth of reading with half-written reviews, so hopefully I'll have enough to post twice a week for quite some time. Because they will be so brief, I'll also be linking other bloggers' reviews at the end if you want to get more info.
Let me know what you think!
Author: Katie Coyle
Source: ARC from KidlitCon
Summary: The Rapture has happened (or has it?), and Vivian Apple is left alone in a rapidly disintegrating world except for her best friend and a mysterious boy named Peter. A quixotic cross-country road trip through a dangerous landscape of left-behinds and Believers may hold answers.
First Impressions: This had interesting things to say about the intersection of religion and business in modern America. I really do wish that Harp had gotten an arc other than being her best friend.
Later on: As someone who's always on the lookout for books that discuss faith, I was a little wary of this one's apparent "Religion Ebil!" stance. But Coyle kept my interest by making Vivian keep puzzling over her parents' conversion and what it did to them, and why it meant so much to them, as well as yearning for a similar experience but knowing she wouldn't get it from the Church of America. There was also a lovely, if heavy-handed moment, with a Catholic family near the end that establishes religion =/= ebil.
I still wish Harp had gotten an arc. She was mostly there to be a wild and crazy girl, and to support Vivian when she needed it. She didn't seem to grow or change throughout the book. I tried to read the second book and couldn't quite get into it.Bookshelves of Doom
By the Numbers
Review Copies: 6
Teen: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
Dense with politics and sacrifice and an AI who would be pure snarky delight if he wasn't the freaking ubervillain, this is all shades of gray and DAMN I loved it.
Tween: The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz Look, I know there was a kerfuffle about this book. Owning my position as a Catholic woman with slightly more but not that much more knowledge of Judaism than the main character, I found it a thoughtful, nuanced depiction of an ignorant girl growing in compassion, faith, and understanding of the world.
Children: Queen Victoria's Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
This was a delight. I loved the royal children swarming the house and Victoria and Albert's clear devotion. Such a different view of a queen usually depicted as dour and stuffy.
And now: some blather.
I started doing the roundups some years ago when my set of books read often topped thirty and sometimes forty in a month. It was a way to highlight books that I hadn't necessarily gotten the chance to talk about any other way.
But for a variety of reasons, I'm not reading nearly as many books anymore as I used to. I also haven't posted many reviews, I think because I feel like I have to consider each one in words and words and words,and it's just intimidating. Not to mention, just as other things have taken over my reading energy, other things have also taken over my writing energy. So this is my last monthly roundup.
Instead, I'm going to try something more akin to what Ms. Yingling does - a brief review, encapsulating her experience in a few sentences. I've also found that my thoughts sometimes change the farther I get away from the immediate experience of the book. Sometimes this is because I'm following the online discussion on the book, sometimes it's just that I'm able to step back and consider the bigger picture. I make notes for myself immediately upon finishing the book, on LibraryThing, so I'll incorporate those, and then go back later to say if my opinions have changed or my thoughts have expanded.
In the past year, I've also doven headfirst into Tumblr (part of the reason a lot of that reading and writing energy got mopped up). I'll still have this blog, but I'll be cross-posting to confessions-of-a-bibliovore.tumblr.com and hopefully getting a little more involved with the book community on there as well as the more traditional kidlitosphere.
By the Numbers
Review Copies: 4
Teen: All the Rage by Courtney Summers
I don't think you need me to tell you about this book. Really I don't. All I have to say is, it really is that good, that raw, that angry, that important.
Children: Funny Bones: Posada and his Day of the Dead calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh
Living in the Southwest, I'm very familiar with the Dia de los Muertos calaveras, but I never knew all this about their originator. It also works as a fascinating glimpse into turn-of-the-century Mexican history, and an introduction to the idea of art as social protest. That's a lot of work for a book with 40 pages including illustrations.
Because I Want To Awards
Most ups and downs: Faceless by Alyssa B Sheinmel
How do you live life after a face transplant transforms you into a different person? Sheinmel's look at the tumultuous first year post-accident for her heroine is honest about her highs, her lows, and how things change even as she clings to her life pre-accident.
EEEE Sequel!: Sound by Alexandra Duncan
Last year's Salvage was one of my very favorite books of the year, and this companion (okay, not sequel) follows a minor character from that book through her own journey. Starting out as a lowly assistant on a research spaceship and content to be so, Miyole's world and heart open up when she meets Cassia, rescued from pirates and desperate to find her brother.
By the Numbers
Review Copies: 7
Teen: P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
Tween: Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko
Well, honestly, it was my only tween read this month. There were good things about this book - the mystery of the plague, the main character's slow-building friendships with Noah and Gemma and her growing understanding of her aunt - but I don't know, I've liked others of hers better. Still, as a historical mystery, I think it did the job.
Children: Creature Features by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Oooo, Steve Jenkins and Robin Page! I love their art, I love the science involved, and these are some wacky-looking animals. This one was just neat.
Because I Want To Awards
Wish I Could Have Loved It: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman
Blood and secrets, a road trip through the 19th century Arizona desert, not to mention a pretty decent love story? This should have been my standout of the month, hands down. But the preternaturally wise and mystical Apache girl guide? Just . . . no.
Oh Thank GOD There's a Second Book: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin
This breakneck story across an alternate 1956 Europe ended on a cliffhanger that had me clawing at my face. Luckily there will be a second book. Unluckily it's not out until next fall. Curses.
Took Me the Longest to Read: Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray
And not just because it's like 54789 pages. I kept getting distracted from this one, but every time I came back, I was able to jump back into the haunted 1920s New York City.
By the Numbers
Review Copies: 7
Teen: Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
The rich world of Puerto Rican Brooklyn comes to life, with a plot and powers that have their roots in Sierra's heritage and everyday life. I wanted to spend a lot more time there.
Tween: The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Wilson
Calpurnia Tate, that science-minded girl, is back. While this was fairly episodic in nature and had an oddly abrupt ending, I still loved seeing how she matures, starts to understand what she wants and how the world may not be willing to give it to her without a fight.
Children: Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot by Anna Branford, illustrated by Elanna Allen
In order to get what you want, you have to have a plan. But it may not go as . . . well . . . planned. I loved how this book respected the deep and imaginative inner life and turmoil of its young narrator.
Because I Want To Awards
Addictively Readable: Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu
This look at escaping from the Quiverfull ideal takes its heroine out of her family and shows her struggle to adjust to the world outside, as well as her longing to retain a connection with God.
Sniff: The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler
A tender and sad look at changing families, letting go, and moving on, in which the romance is almost incidental.
Slyly Hilarioius: One Year in Coal Harbor by Polly Horvath
Though it deals with heavy subjects (a character in foster care, the yearning for a best friend who really gets you), there were several moments that had me howling aloud. While it takes place in Canada, I thought of the very best of the kooky Southern small town genre.
Author: Phoebe North
Source: Local Library
Terra's world is bounded to a single spaceship, the Asherah. It's been that way since she was born, and her mother, and her mother's mother back through generations since they left the dying Earth to travel to their new home of Zehava. Her life is laid out in a similarly confined way. At sixteen, she will take the job that the ruling Council has chosen for her, she will marry before the age of eighteen, and she will have her requisite two children in her early twenties.
But unlike her ancestors, Terra will land on Zehava. As she approaches adulthood, and as the Asherah approaches its final destination, she begins to realize that life is not nearly so simple as doing what you're told when you're told to do it. She gets involved with the Children of Abel, a rebel group seeking to overthrow the system, but she has her doubts about their motives and their methods.
The Council has one idea about life on Zehavah, and the Children of Abel have another. Somewhere in the middle is Terra's - but what exactly is it?
This is a doorstop of a book, but I didn't want to put it down. Terra's world and her narration were completely compelling. Sometimes it's hard to put up with Terra herself. She seems naive, self-centered, often clueless about the motives and emotions of others or the political system that rules her world. And there are also times when she willingly keeps her blinders on, going along with what's expected because it's easy, trying to be a good Asherite because it's too hard to swim upstream. These things also make her tremendously real and sympathetic, and made me willing to see how she was going to change and grow.
On starting this, I worried that we would have the inevitable love triangle. And we do . . . but at the same time we don't. There are two, and neither of them are quite standard. Koen, the boy Terra has agreed to marry, is in love with Van, another man, and both of them are Children of Abel. But same-sex marriages don't exist on the Asherah, so he's settling for Terra (who, to be fair, is settling for him). There's also Silvan, in line to be the next captain, who is arrogant and spoiled but also exciting and tempting. Terra doesn't love him either, but at least he evokes a reaction. But it makes things complicated that he once dated and dumped her best friend, who has never gotten over him. And then, of course, there's the one she's told nobody about - the mysterious boy in her dreams of the new planet. I appreciated the complexity of these relationships (well, except the last one, which seems more like wishful thinking than anything) and how Terra's feelings toward them were more about trying to be in love than actually being.
One of the other things that sets this book apart is the culture aboard the Asherah. Besides the standard, regimented dystopian system, the customs and language of the ship draw on cultural Judaism. Religion and faith, at least as far as God is concerned, seemed to have disappeared but ideas remain, like tikkun olan (the responsiblity of humanity to heal the world) or mitzvot (used in the sense of duties or good deeds in this book, but a minor Google search tells me is really more related to God's commandments). Not being Jewish myself, I suspect I'm missing the subtleties and would love to talk this book over with somebody who knows both the culture and the faith.
A complicated, sophisticated sci-fi dystopia with a complex main character, suitable for those already into the genre.
Book: Goblin Secrets
Author: William Alexander
Source: Local Library
Rownie isn't like all the other children who live in Graba's house, because Rownie has a brother of his own. But Rowan disappeared a couple of months ago, leaving Rownie all on his own without any defenses against the old witch.
When Rownie runs away from Graba's house and falls in with a troupe of goblin actors, he discovers a place where he's welcome, and moreover a gift for acting. With a mask on, he can be anybody. But Graba doesn't let go of what's hers that easily. Not to mention, the floods threaten their city and the Mayor, who has outlawed acting and is prejudiced against goblins, threatens the theater troupe. What can one small boy without his brother do against any of these dangers?
When this won the National Book Award a few years ago, I hadn't really heard of it. This is a quieter book, not very action-packed in spite of the action that occurs, because Alexander has a very detached prose style that made me feel as if I were being told the story rather than living it. Still, I kept reading this for the world of goblins and witches. Alexander has a way of dropping grotesque and magical details about the world and the people that indicate intriguing secrets, which we never fully get but know are there. I also read this for Rownie himself, discovering the magic of acting and his own strength, which both help him when he finds his brother again.
Give this book to lovers of other quiet fantasy books.
Book: The Fourteenth Goldfish
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Source: review copy from publisher, picked up at ALA last year
When Ellie's grandfather comes to live with her and her mom, it's worse than most people's grandfathers suddenly moving in. An old man would be bad enough. But Ellies grandfather is a scientist who's learned how to dial back the aging process, so now he's in the body of a thirteen-year-old boy, with all the stinky socks and boundless appetite that go with it.
That stuff is no fun, and neither is listening to her mom and grandfather fight all the time. But he also recruits Ellie to help him get back his experiments from his old lab, and in the process shares his love of science and the scientific process with her. For the first time, Ellie feels like she has a passion of her own.
But she soon learns science is a double-edged sword. Are there things you shouldn't do, even if you can?
Some years ago, I got a piece of writing advice about "gimmes." You get one "gimme" per story. It's the one thing that the audience has to accept for the story to work. It can be as outlandish as you (like a lone scientist secretly and successfully reversing the aging process on himself). But you only get the one, and everything else that builds on that "gimme" has to be real and logical. This is an example of how well that works. Holm uses the idea of reversed aging to explore complicated family dynamics and moving on with life even after things have changed on you - like the death of a spouse, a divorce, or even a one-time best friend who's moved on to other things.
I especially loved that she didn't just go the "rah-rah-science!!" route. A major theme of the book is the negative consequences of scientific discovery, such as Marie Curie's death from radiation poisoning or the aftereffects of Oppenheimer's atom bomb. At the same time, Holm balances that with the wonder of discovering the world and its possibilities - a more nuanced rah-rah-science theme than most.
Funny, sweet, and swift-moving, this will appeal to a lot of middle-schoolers.
Book: 5 to 1
Author: Holly Bodger
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley
After decades of gender selection, the ratio of boys to girls has become 5 to 1, and the tiny country of Koyangar has instituted elaborate tests for girls to pick their mates. The winners will get marriage, money, and a life of trying to breed more daughters. The losers will get menial jobs or worse, sent to the wall that separates Koyangar from the rest of the Indian subcontinent, an almost certain death sentence.
Sudasa is the granddaughter of a highly-placed woman in the government, and knows that she is expected to select a particular contestant. But she keeps getting distracted by Contestant 5, who helps out the other contestants and shows compassion for the injured that are ignored by every other boy. What she doesn't know is that Contestant 5 has come to the Tests without any intent of winning a wife. Instead, he plans to escape, because anything is better than Koyangar.
Initially, Contestant 5 disdains Sudasa as spoiled and corrupt, and Sudasa can't fathom why he would risk the wall rather than try for a life of comfort and plenty as her husband. But as they get to know each other in stolen moments, they come to understand that they both want the same thing: freedom.
I have to be honest: I've been completely over the whole novels in verse thing for awhile, so while Sudasa's free-versified thoughts and feelings were interesting, I was always relieved when I got back to the prose of Contestant 5's sections. That being said, seeing Sudasa slowly realize that there was a life for her outside of Koyangar, and her grandmother's control was a fascinating character arc. I just wished it had been more fleshed out. Free verse tends to be extremely spare, without a lot of detail. This is obviously a personal preference, so your mileage may vary.
With its themes of gender inequity (girls are still treated like property, their rarity adding to their value like precious gems, locked away in a safe most of the time) and political corruption (always, always political corruption) this book fits into the usual run of current dystopian fiction. The non-Western setting and culture makes it stand out, but at only 246 pages (and about half of those in free verse), it feels like we skimmed over the setting and honestly, everything outside of the Tests themselves.
By the Numbers
Review Copies: 5
Teen: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Although there's not so much a plot as a set of loosely connected events, this story broke a major reading drought for me, sucking me right in to Ari's world and his blossoming understanding of love, family, identity, and sexuality.
Tween: The Adventures of Beanboy by Lisa Harkrader
Okay, fine, so there's not much competition for this slot this month. But I did adore this story of a kid in a struggling family, learning to see the world differently. I also loved his sorta? kinda? friendship with Sam, who was all prickles and combat-boot ferocity.
Children: Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
Brown v. Board of Education gets most of the attention when you talk about school integration, but not many know there was another, earlier landmark case in California, when the Mendez family fought for their children to go to the better equipped and funded white school. Tonatiuh's narration and illustrations guide you through this story without sugar-coating the struggle, before or after the decision.
Because I Want To Awards
He Picked the Wrong Victim: Ruthless by Carolyn Lee Adams
When a serial killer kidnaps Ruth, he doesn't know he's met his match. The resident mean girl at her family's stables, Ruth comes by her nickname of "Ruthless" honestly, and it's her cold determination and dispassionate survival skills that will not only keep her alive, but enable her to come out on top.
Didn't Go the Way I Thought It Would: Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George
Two cousins discover magical family abilities and obligations. To my delight, it was shy and obedient Lou who immediately rose to the occasion, and willful, wild Dacia who needed some time to come to grips with the situation - a reversal from what I expected.
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By the Numbers
Review Copies: 9
Teen: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Nobody believes Finn when he says that his friend Roza was kidnapped by a man he can't describe, but he knows he's right. With shades of the Persephone myth and two (count 'em) strong love stories, this book sucked me right in.
Tween: Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
Nobody writes complex middle-school inner life quite like Stead. This is a beautiful examination of friendships, how people change, and how difficult it is to maintain relationships or to know when to let it go.
Children: Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk
Gandhi's grandson doesn't feel like he can live up to his grandfather's peaceful example, until he learns that even the Mahatma still feels anger. Beautiful, thoughtful, gorgeously illustrated - ooo I loved this.
Because I Want To Awards
I Need a Hug Now Please: A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz
In the waning days of a devastating war, the last three fairies left in Ferrum struggle to put themselves and each other back together. This book is extremely dark, but its very darkness makes it tremendously hopeful - because if you can survive losing everything, you can survive anything.
Fascinating Meditation on Storytelling: Ash and Bramble by Sarah Prineas
Caught up in the sinister machine of fairy tales, a seamstress (or is she?) and a shoemaker (not a prince) try to find a way to break free. It got away from itself occasionally, but I loved how it contemplated the danger of a single story told repeatedly.