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by A.C. Gaughen
was a fascinating experience. The book is the Robin Hood story from the point of view of Will Scarlet, one of Robin's band of so-called merry men. Except in this rendition, he's a cross-dressing young woman.
First, I was caught by the voice. Voice can be tricky in historical novels. Characters from the past shouldn't sound twenty-first century, but at the same time, making them sound non
twenty-first centuryish can also mean making them sound contrived or stilted. And while we know how people--particularly educated people--wrote in days of old, we can never really know how they sounded. The key to Scarlet's voice is that she's very ungrammatical. She appears to be unaware of the third person singular of the verb "to be," throwing "were" in everywhere. "That were Rob's version of a greeting." "'First, Freddy Cooper were arrested,'" I said, looking around. It weren't good news." Also, she uses the word "lads" for the other band members. I like the word "lad."
So I liked Scarlet's voice right away. What I didn't like was when she said things like, "Rob looked at me, and as were fair usual, I felt my heart jump." I thought, Oh, no. A romance. Why must there always be a romance? I don't know if I'm going to be able to take this for long.
I switched between reading Scarlet
and another YA historical novel, figuring I'd stay with the one that hooked me first. As it turned out, it was Scarlet
Because I realized I would have loved Scarlet
when I was a teenager. I...mean...loved
The girl who dresses up like a boy so she can escape the restrictions of her society and be tough and strong and do exciting things? Teenage Gail loved those characters.
The girl-who-is-torn-between-two-lovers scenario, as Scarlet is with Rob and someone who will remain nameless? As an adult, I find that a tedious cliche. As a teenager? Loved it.
The star-crossed lovers who are always misunderstanding cues and take forever to get together? As an adult, I want to slap those characters and tell them to get on with it. But teenage Gail couldn't get enough of that Elizabeth Bennett/Mr. Darcy vibe.
As I was reading this book, I felt as if I was being transported back in time. Not back into the time of the story, but back into my past. I don't think I have ever read a book that took me back to my teenage reading experience the way Scarlet
Also, there is a great reveal in Scarlet
that I never saw coming but realized immediately made sense.Plot Project
: The whole Robin Hood mythology is one of those cultural things everyone seems to know about even if we can't remember why. (Maybe even more so than King Arthur, probably because Robin Hood is a much more democratic and contemporary sounding figure. He's all about redistribution of wealth, after all.) I suspect that Gaughen tweaks much of the basic Robin Hood narrative for her plot. Good story, but what is even more impressive is the situation/world she came up with to put the storyline within. There's more going on here than just making Will Scarlet a female.Scarlet
is a Cybils nominee in the YA category
I have "known" Melissa Wiley
of Here in the Bonny Glen
for years. She's written five books
, three of which came out this year. Fox and Crow Are Not Friends
is the first that I've read.
This clever Step into Reading
book uses three tidy chapters to show Fox and Crow interacting in nonfriendly ways. At the same time, the book is a complete story with a climax and surprise reveal. The images don't just illustrate text but really do carry part of the storyline. The reveal makes sense in terms of the illustration. At the end of the story, we suddenly ask ourselves, Ah, yes. Where did the cheese come from?
And this little volume is full of literary references, starting with its title. Fox and Crow Are Not Friends
calls to mind Frog and Toad Are Friends
the first of the Frog and Toad I Can Read
books by Arnold Lobel
. I once saw this series referred to as the best I Can Read
books ever written. The chapter title A Good Smell Is Hard to Find
has to make adult readers think of Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find
, a short story I've never understood. Another chapter title, Revenge Is a Dish Best Served with Cheese
is a play on "revenge is a dish best served cold," which is not a Klingon proverb
, people! And the reveal at the end, which I don't want to give away--did it not make anyone else think of the Berenstain Bears
I hope we'll see more Fox and Crow books in the future.Fox and Crow Are Not Friends
is a Cybils nominee in the Easy Readers/Early Chapter Books
I have been a fan of the Ivy + Bean books by Annie Barrows for years. As I said back in 2007:
"Bean could be described as a Junie B. and Clementine type of child in that she tends to go her own way. Her creator describes her as "loud and wild." The difference between Bean and the other leads in the big, girl series is that Bean is comfortable with who she is. She isn't always anxiously interacting with adult characters who reassure her in some way or are involved in helping her learn a reassuring lesson. Most of Bean's interaction is with another child and not adults. She interacts with Ivy, her co-lead, who, superficially, is your stereotypical quiet little girl.
Yeah, your quiet little girl who is into magic and potions, and who is sharp as a tack. Talk about still waters running deep."
Their eighth book, No News Is Good News,
is more of the same, and the same is very good. Ivy and Bean want to take part in a school fad that requires money. Their first plan to make some involves selling potions that Ivy would make. Surprisingly, that doesn't work. So they fall back on creating a neighborhood newspaper, as Bean's father did when he was young. They grasp the concept of selling subscriptions right away. That they will have to provide something to the people who paid up comes as something of a surprise to them. They also struggle with the concept of "news."
Yes, stories about child-run newspapers have been done before. But not with Ivy and Bean.Ivy + Bean No News Is Good News
is a Cybils nominee in the Easy Readers/Short Chapter Books category.
The One and Only Ivan
by Katherine Applegate
is one of those books that is saved by a really great character. Ivan is a gorilla, and he tells his own story in short chapters laid out in short paragraphs. They aren't indented and are spaced in such a way that the material on the pages could pass for lists. This all seems to me to suggest the way a nonhuman would tell a story.
Ivan's is a hard core outsider story, because, though he describes himself as having had a life as a human at one point ("My life as a human was a glamorous one, although my parents, traditional sorts, would not have approved."), he clearly has not. He lived in a human family only as long as the human family could tolerate him. He observes humans from inside a cage.
He may not quite get that his understanding is often just a little bit off. So all his observations and philosophical sounding statements are from the point of view of someone who is watching humans but not always totally getting beyond the surface of what he observes. This is not to say that he's superficial. He does the best he can with what he's got to work with.
Applegate was inspired by a true story
of a gorilla who lived much like Ivan did. Since this included spending decades in a cage, you might think this is one of those evil people doing animals bad stories. But the entire human race isn't written off here. Even Mack, who could be described as the heavy, is portrayed as more unenlightened and maybe confused than wicked.The One and Only Ivan
is a clever, often very readable story. But it also often doesn't have a lot of narrative drive. Which brings us to an opportunity to do a Plot Project piece.Plot Project:
You could describe The One and Only Ivan
plot as being built around a character wanting something and having to overcome obstacles to get it. Ivan wants to save a young elephant. But that young elephant doesn't enter the story until about a quarter of the way through the book, and Ivan's mission to save her doesn't become clear until close to the halfway point. You could also describe The One and Only Ivan
plot as beginning with a disturbance to his world--the arrival of the young elephant. But, again, that doesn't come until a quarter of the way in. The real story here, the something that happens to somebody and so what, doesn't begin for quite a while. Until then, you're talking world building and characterization.
Ivan is a wonderful character, but it wasn't until the last third of the book that I became interested in what might happen next.
There's a discussion of The One and Only Ivan
in the comments to this review
at the Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
. The One and Only Ivan
is also a Cybils nominee in the Fantasy/Science Fiction
category. That seems an odd place for it, given what we think of as fantasy these days. But it is about a gorilla who can write a book, so...
An argument could be made that Friends With Boys
by Faith Erin Hicks
is just another outsider trying to make it in high school story. Maggie and her three older brothers were all homeschooled by their mother who, like so many mothers in children's lit/YA, is gone, gone, gone. Each one of them had to transition to public school at ninth grade. Now it's Maggie's turn. Her brothers are quite marvelous, though not particularly attentive, and Maggie is left to experience not just the terrors of high school on her own, but the whole separation from family that most kids do somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5.
Yes, the homeschooling thing is the only unusual element here in the basic story. Nonetheless, Friends With Boys
is very well done. Partly this is because those older brothers, while not particularly helpful at first, have made their way through an assortment of adolescent problems and are still standing, so there is every reason for us to trust Maggie to do the same. And partly this is because Friends With Boys
is a graphic novel and a really good one.
I am able to whip through what I consider to be a well-done graphic novel, one that uses image to communicate setting and action. Hicks does even more here. Her wonderful artwork conveys character. When Maggie's older brothers appear, our understanding of them is almost instantaneous. There are no what I call "narrative boxes" in these frames--spots where the graphic novelist has had to tell us some info in words. Absolutely everything here is in dialogue and images. You can just suck this story in, absorb it. Be one with the story.
Okay, I will admit I don't totally get the ghost. But for you people who like that sort of thing, hey, there's a ghost.Friends With Boys
is a Cybils nominee in the Teen Graphic Novels category
Minutes before I started reading Ungifted
by Gordon Korman,
I gave up reading a book that was told from alternating points of view. Several of them. None of the characters were particularly interesting, some of them were terribly cliched, and the point of view switches meant having to keep readjusting myself to a different person telling a story I didn't like very much, anyway.
Imagine my surprise when I found that Ungifted
was told the same way. The basic story is more interesting in Ungifted
, though, and the characters are all more likable and more accessible.Ungifted
is the story of a run-of-the-mill kid who has a history of stumbling into disruptive rather than criminal trouble. After accidentally causing expensive damage to the middle school gym, he takes advantage of a paperwork error so he can hide out in the district's school for the academically gifted.
I found the basic premise for the book believable. Donovan had legitimate reasons for being concerned about the financial trouble he was going to make for his family if he was fingered for the gym job. I found the slip-up that got him into the gifted program believable. I found his family's response to his sudden identification as gifted believable. For the past thirty years, at least, it has been a rare parent who hasn't spent their children's entire school careers waiting for someone besides themselves to recognize their offsprings' splendor.
I did feel the point of view switches weakened the story, though. The basic idea is that Donovan's presence at the school makes life better for the gifted students. I buy that idea
, too. But I would have enjoyed getting deeper into one point of view in order to see what's so great about Donovan.
This is a contemporary, realistic school story with a lot of humor. I see so much fantasy, paranormal, teen girl group stuff that a realistic story seems unique by comparison. A lot of kids would be happy to find this book.Ungifted
is a Cybils nominee
in the middle grade fiction category.
Well, well, well. I requested I Hunt Killers
by Barry Lyga
a while back, and by the time I got hold of it, it was a Cybils nominee for YA fiction
.I Hunt Killers
is a serial murderer story with a tormented lead who is both hunting for the killer and fearful that he could become one. It includes a quirky, much weaker, sidekick and a spunky girlfriend. It made me think of Dexter,
if Dexter had made any attempt to control himself when he was young. And had friends.
It also reminded me of Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick
in that both books seem like YA book versions of adult movies. With some changes to details, all the main characters could easily be ten years older and pretty much maintain the same plot and end up with the same story. And it seems as if it wouldn't take a whole lot to adapt them into movies because they seem so much like movies already.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. This thriller scenario may be new to YA, which is different than doing the same thing in YA over and over again simply because new readers are coming up who haven't seen it before
This idea of using adult film as inspiration for YA novels may be really taking off right now. I'm reading The FitzOsbornes in Exile
, and though I'm enjoying it, I have to say it seems a lot like a Masterpiece series.
by Gillian Philip
Seth is the bastard sun of the dun captain Griogar. His father barely acknowledges his existence, and most of the people in the dun revile and torment him, when they aren't ignoring him. But when his older half-brother Conal takes him under his wing, the two form a special bond. So when Conal is exiled to the full-mortal realm, of course Seth goes with him.
Seth and Conal are Sithe, and have the ability to speak mind-to-mind. Sithe also live extremely long lives, but they aren't immortal and can die on the point of a sword—or in a fire. And in the late 16th century, full mortals consider Sithe abilities to be witchcraft, and witches are burned at the stake. Can Seth and Conal survive long enough to live out the term of their exile and return to their own world?
Firebrand is an exciting story driven by a strong narrative voice that leaps off the page. Seth is an interesting character: stubborn, arrogant, and temperamental, yet redeemed by an abiding loyalty to his brother. Although initially he appears to care about no one but himself, he grows through his love and loyalty to Conal, and he shows a deep ability to care in spite of his prickly exterior. Gillian Philip did an amazing job of creating a narrator who should be unlikeable, but whom we can’t help but begin to like and care about.
The plot is exciting, with enough action to keep the pages turning. In fact, it leaps right into the action as Conal is about to be burned at the stake, then much of the book is a flashback that shows how they got to that point. There’s also plenty of political intrigue, and romance as well.
Firebrand appears to be primarily only available in the UK at this time. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy as a Cybils panelist. There are some copies available on Amazon Marketplace, but other than that, readers in the US may have difficulty finding copies. I hope that this excellent fantasy series will be available in a US edition before too long.
Firebrand was a 2010 Cybils nominee in the Fantasy & Science Fiction—Teen category.
Firebrand on Amazon.com (try the used and new link)
Firebrand on Amazon UK
FTC required disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher to enable me to write this review. Some of the bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.
The Curse of the Wendigo
The Monstrumologist, Book 2
by Rick Yancey
This sequel to last year's The Monstrumologist, finds Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, the Monstrumologist of the title, in the interesting position of arguing against the existence of a monster. When Warthrop receives word that his former mentor intends to propose adding the Wendigo, a mythical American monster that resembles a vampire in some ways, to the canon of Monstrumology at the next conference, Warthrop prepares a speech in opposition to the inclusion of such superstitious nonsense. When Warthrop's old friend John Chanler disappears on a quest for the Wendigo, Warthrop and his young assistant, narrator Will Henry, begin a dangerous journey through the Canadian wilderness in search of Chanler, even though Warthrop believes that search to be hopeless.
I've never been a fan of horror, but I love this series in spite of my squeamishness. I probably would never have picked up the first book, especially with it's original hideous cover, except for three things: it was nominated for the Cybils in 2009, I'm a fan of Rick Yancey (here, here, and here) and my teenage son, who also doesn't like horror, gave it his highest recommendation.
The series is wonderfully written, in a style reminiscent of classic horror, yet with a modern sensibility that will appeal to today's teens. There are some, er, pretty graphic scenes, so this isn't a series for younger children or sensitive readers.
For most of the book, The Curse of the Wendigo is slightly less of a bloodbath than the original Monstrumologist book, and moves a little more slowly, relying on suspense more than outright horror. However, there are still enough detailed descriptions of bodies with entrails hanging out and eyes removed to satisfy the most jaded horror reader.
But really, The Curse of the Wendigo is very much a character driven book. And what characters! I adore Will Henry. On the surface he is obsequious and timid, yet underneath he has a depth of resolve and courage, which is revealed to a much greater degree in this book. We also see Dr. Warthrop in new light here, as some of his past, and some unexpected aspects of his personality, are revealed. Through their hardships, his relationship with Will Henry develops, and while he is still the same arrogant and impatient doctor, by the end some change has crept in. There are some new characters introduced, including Lilly, a delightfully obnoxious 13-year-old girl who makes it her mission to torment Will, and who is certainly destined to be the first female Monstrumologist.
The Curse of the Wendigo was a 2010 Cybils nominee in the Fantasy/Science Fiction: Teen category.
FTC required disclosure: Review copy provided by
I am finishing off my not very restful Thanksgiving weekend with links to my posts on YA Cybils nominees.
As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins.
Fat Vampire by Adam Rex.
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett.
Linger by Maggie Stiefvater.
The Cardturner by Louis Sachar.
As luck would have it, I have two more Cybils nominees upstairs in my To Be Read pile. I just happened to pick them off the new book shelf at the library over the last month. I'll post about them when I've finished them.
Well, Thanksgiving is over at Chez Gauthier, for which I am very grateful. Not that I didn't enjoy it. But the three plus days of preparation spread over a couple of weeks, as well as the six hours of socializing has left me exhausted in a satisfying sort of way.
Fortunately, I planned to be tired this weekend. Over the next few days I'm going to be posting links to the Cybil nominees I happen to have read this year. I'm starting with picture books and working my way up in age because I am extremely linear, and this was the line I could most easily find.
First off we have three nonfiction nominees:
Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow--A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix by Gary Golio with illustrations by Javaka Steptoe.
Lincoln Tells a Joke by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer with illustrations by Stacy Innerst.
The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Suzy) by Barbara Kerley with illustrations by Edwin Fotheringham.
And my one fiction nominee:
Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld.
Now I have to find a vacant spot on which to collapse.
by Sallie Lowenstein
On the last day of the first week of first grade, Davey doesn't want to go back to school. The other kids pick on him, call him names, and push him down on the playground. Then he discovers an unusual box of cereal in the pantry. On the box is a space that reads, "Wolfley-O's! The cereal that ____________________________." After Davey fills in the blank with "Builds Your Confidence," he finds that he does, indeed, have more confidence the next day at school.
Throughout the week, more blanks for different attributes appear on the cereal box, and as Davey fills them in, he finds that things improve at school. The week culminates when a recipe for Wolfley-O cookies appears on the box, and Davey makes the cookies to share with the other kids at school.
Wolfley-O's is a fun and empowering story for kids about the power of imagination to shape our world. Sallie Lowenstein understands well, and does a great job of portraying, the fluid line between imagination and reality for young children. Is the box of Wolfley-O's real or in Davey's imagination? It really won't matter to the kids reading the story.
Lowenstein is good at getting into the mind of a child, and Davey is an appealing character that kids will identify with. The art is lovely, with great attention to detail; for example, Davey's socks are bunched up and coming off in one illustration. The kids at school start out as a child's stick figures at first, then gradually gain detail and transform into fully drawn and shaded characters as Davey gets to know them.
The recipe for Wolfley-O's cookies is included in the story. It sounds delicious enough that I'd like to try it, yet simple enough for a young child to make (with adult supervision).
Wolfley-O's is a Cybils nominee in the Fiction Picture Books category.
FTC required disclosure: Review copy (F&G) provided by the publisher to enable me to write this review.
The Tomorrow Code
by Brian Falkner
When New Zealand teens Tane and Rebecca start receiving coded messages from the future, they realize that the world is in trouble. As they begin to decipher the code, they discover that the messages come from their future selves - and contain a worrisome SOS. Tane and Rebecca, along with Tane's brother Fatboy, frantically work to decode the messages and follow the instructions before it's too late. The three teens may be the only ones who stand between the world and disaster.
The Tomorrow Code is a highly suspenseful, exciting eco-thriller reminiscent of the work of Michael Crichton, but with better writing. It's a terrifying page-turner, with interesting, believable characters. Tane and Fatboy are Maori, and although they are in most ways modern teenagers, they are also in touch with their Maori heritage, a heritage that becomes important later in the story. The glimpses of Maori culture are interesting.
Rebecca is brilliant, the daughter of scientists. She excels at math and science, but it's interesting that she isn't always the one to solve the problems. I love the importance that the author gives to multiple intelligences, as it takes the very different skills of the three of them to solve all the problems.
The Tomorrow Code is a 2009 Cybils Fantasy/Science Fiction - teen nominee.
Edited to add: There's a lot of great information about the science, technology, geography and culture from the book, including a stunning gallery of New Zealand photos that has me dying to go there, on the Tomorrow Code web site.
Disclaimers: I received a review copy from the publisher to evaluate for the Cybils award. The Amazon links above are Amazon Associate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.
Tracy Grand of Jacketflap has once again created this terrific Cybils nominee widget. It rotates through the Cybils nominees and displays a different one each time the page is loaded. You can get the widget for your own blog here. The best part is that it's completely customizable! You can choose the colors and the categories that you want to display. I set mine to display the Fantasy/Science Fiction nominees, of course, and I also included the Graphic Novel nominees since some of them have SFF themes.
by Antonia Michaelis
Translated by Anthea Bell
When Safia becomes the eighth wife of the Rajah Ahmed Mudhi, she knows that she will die. Safia's name means "virtue," but Safia is not a virgin, and when the Rajah finds out that he has been deceived, he will kill her. Luckily, the Rajah is ill right after their wedding, and Safia has a few more days to live. Like Scheherazade, Safia tells stories while she waits to die. But Safia's listener is not her husband, but a young eunuch called Lalit.
A young thief named Farhad Kamal finds a silver amulet in a lotus flower, which marks him as the hero chosen to rescue the god Krishna's daughter from the demon king Ravana, who plans to marry her at the next full moon. Farhad knows that he is no hero, but Krishna makes it clear that if Farhad doesn't succeed, he'll be reborn in his next life as a worm, and the cycle of his lives will be prolonged to infinity before achieving Nirvana. Not wanting to risk such a fate, Farhad sets off to find the magical mount promised to him by Krishna, to take him to the city at the heart of the desert of Rajasthan where Krishna's daughter is being held.
As Safia tells Lalit the story of Farhad, both of them are transformed by the story in unexpected ways. And Farhad himself just might become a hero after all.
I adore Tiger Moon! It's such a beautiful story, richly written with a folk-tale feel, yet it also has a smart, sassy voice and an almost modern sensibility that makes it really fun to read. Here's an example:
Sometimes he visited one of the great temples to pray to the gods, and as chance would have it, he usually came out again with a handful of coins from the plate left out for offerings. He had tried going into the new British church, too, but the donation boxes there were kept well locked, so he decided against converting to Christianity. The Muslims were clever and had driven him straight out of their mosque. So Farhad remained a Hindu out of what might be called his economic convictions, and on the whole he looked after himself successfully.
The writing is lovely, and Anthea Bell has done a wonderful job of translating it. The story resonates with warmth and humor. It's a poignant story of sacrifice and true heroism. And who wouldn't love Nitish, the sacred white tiger with a fear of water?
Tiger Moon does contain some mature content.
Disclaimers: I received a review copy from the publisher to evaluate for the Cybils award. The Amazon links above are Amazon Associate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.
Sheila Ruth has the list of 2009 Fantasy/SciFi Cybils Nominees up at Wands and Worlds. I noticed some familiar titles and authors. Among them:
The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan.
Ottoline Goes To School by Chris Riddell.
Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman.
Stonewall Hinkleman and the Battle of Bull Run by Michael Hemphill and Sam Riddleburger.
Authors I've read with nominated titles I haven't read:
Joni Sensel, Jonathan Stroud, Anne Ursu, M. T. Anderson, Angie Sage, Derek Landy, Michael Buckley, P.J. Haarsma, and Holly Black.
And, finally, I noticed that Pamela F. Service is nominated for Camp Alien. It's been years since I've read anything by Service, but she is memorable at Chez Gauthier for Stinker From Space.
For someone who isn't a major fantasy fan, I seem to have read a lot of it.
I remember enjoying a book when I was young about a girl who disguised herself as a man so she could fight in the Civil War. So the premise behind No Girls Allowed: Tales of Daring Women Dressed as Men for Love, Freedom and Adventure by Susan Hughes and Willow Dawson certainly appeals to me.
I have to say, though, that I didn't find this graphic presentation of short pieces on seven different women particularly successful. A lot of the panels required those little narrative boxes to explain what was going on, and I still sometimes found myself confused. The snakes that appear in the story of Alfhild, a Viking princess, threw me, for example. A prince arriving to see her kills two snakes that appear out of nowhere. The princess then says, "Sir, you have killed my vipers." He apologizes and says, "It was the only way for me to win your hand in marriage!" The next page includes a confusing panel that suggests the king had set up the kill-the-vipers-marry-my-daughter scenario. The scene appears to show Alfhild discussing the marriage proposal with her family. In fact, we're told in a box that that is what she's doing. But at the bottom of the panel, another box of text appears in which we're told that her father delayed consulting her. The graphics and text actually appear to contradict one another.
Some of the women's motivation for taking on the life they do isn't very clear, either. That's particularly the case for Alfhild and Esther Brandeau.
The accounts of nineteenth century women work better, probably because there looks to be more documentary evidence and more for the writer and illustrator to work with.
Another confusing aspect of the book: Some of the stories are based on historical fact, while others are based on legend. I think that makes the overall project less focused than it could have been.
So I didn't feel the book worked all that well, either graphically or as nonfiction. The subject matter may be of high interest to young readers, but I'm not sure if twenty-first century children feel the narrowness of women's lot in life the way children of earlier generations did.
For a different reaction and an interview with the author see Big A, little a's New Voices Blog Tour: No Girls Allowed.
No Girls Allowed is a Cybils nominee in the graphic novels category. (Though it definitely isn't a novel.)
A Frankenstein story is one in which scientists play God, messing with nature to create life. The end result is rarely good. (Think Jurassic Park. Or Alex Award winner Never Let Me Go.)
Like Never Let Me Go, The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson is a very high quality Frankenstein story. Its characterization equals its plotting, and it's very elegantly written. The outcome for The Adoration of Jenna Fox is far different than the outcome in Never Let Me Go, though. It's not your run-of-the-mill Frankenstein story ending.
Jenna Fox has just come out of a lengthy coma at the beginning of her story, which is set in a future United States that has suffered your usual futuristic disasters involving disease, earthquake, and economic breakdown. She seems in remarkably good shape, though, and the only medical person she sees is her father, the head of some kind of biotech firm. She has survived a horrendous accident that she can't recall. Things come back to her slowly. Things come to the reader slowly.
Slowly, in this case, is not a bad thing.
This book deals with some big issues, such as what it means to be human (I'm sorry, I kept thinking of Data on STTNG--not that there's anything wrong with that), parental love, rationing health care, and identity. But it doesn't do it in a pretentious, heavy-handed way. The Adoration of Jenna Fox has a scifi/thriller aspect that keeps it from feeling like too much of a problem book and a teen angst problem aspect that keeps it from falling into scifi/thriller cliches.
Personally, I could have done without the epilogue, but I never like epilogues.
I think some might argue that The Adoration of Jenna Fox ends the way it does because it's YA and YA must be hopeful. But I think that doesn't give it credit for asking an interesting question about the traditonal Frankenstein scenario--Is it really wrong to do this?
The Adoration of Jenna Fox is a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction category.
Colleen at Chasing Ray interviewed Martin Millar, whose Lonely Werewolf Girl has been nominated for a Cybil in the Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction Category. The interview is part of the 2008 Winter Blog Blast Tour.
I'm going to say right up front that as a general rule, I'm not terribly fond of apocalyptic novels. They tend to be very similar, I think. Everything's dreadful. People are suffering. Humankind usually brings the whole thing down on itself through messing with nature, religion, war, science, global markets. Somehow it's my fault.
In the graphic novelIn the Small by Michael Hague we're brought down by a mysterious blue light. After the light is gone, all of humanity (or so it appears) has shrunk. How will people survive when almost every creature on the planet is larger than they are and evidently carnivorous? Personally, I was impressed by how many family pets had been waiting their chance to turn on their human masters.
The survival aspect of the story is interesting and moves along quickly. However, the main character, Mouse (that's got to have some kind of meaningful significance) Willow, has premonitions or visions that make it possible for him to know just what needs to be done. What's more, as he's leading a group of co-workers from his father's office out to the 'burbs, he runs into one of those stereotypical street people who also has visions. Street guy's visions mesh very nicely with Mouse's.
The whole vision thing seemed out of place to me. It seemed like a quick and dirty way of giving a teenage boy a leadership position. His sister back home is quite a mighty sprite, and she doesn't need any visions.
Though some of the human figures in the panels seem a little roughly drawn, I don't think that's unusual in graphic novels. This is a color novel with glossy pages.
In the Small has been nominated for a Cybil in the Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novel category, though the publisher describes the book as young adult. Since the main character and his sister, the other big figure in the story, are teenagers and there are no major child characters in the book, young adult seems a more appropriate classification to me.
Parenthetical.net reviewed this book back in October.
Michael Hague was interviewed on In the Small at Newsarama.
I forgot to direct your attention to the Easy Reader finalists for the Cybils. Easy readers, like graphic novels, are of particular interest for me. Not that the rest of the finalists aren't interesting.
I seem to be really struggling to get over Christmas this year. I suspect that if I went back and looked at my end of the year posts, I'd find that I have trouble getting over it every year. Though who has time for that? I have reason to hope to be back to my so-called normal rituals by Tuesday. Then, of course, I leave for a week's vacation next Saturday.
Into the Volcano by Don Wood is another one of the elementary/middle grade graphic novelCybils finalists I'm determined to tell you all about.
Volcano is a well-done graphic novel (no narrative and plenty of wordless panels where the images carried the story) that is also a realistic adventure. It has that classic kidlit device of the missing, mysterious parent, but in this case she is not some fantasy figure but (be still my heart) a scientist! (This feminist-leaning woman of a certain age could just weep.) She's also sort of an adventurer out to collect some kind of pearl. She has a falling out with her sister who is also a partner in her pearl gathering scheme. Her two sons, who had been living in what appeared to me to be the United States with what looks to be their wealthy father, are invited out to visit their aunt, who plans to use them to help find scientist mom and the pearls.
In a volcano.
So the kids take part in a dangerous adventure that is resolved by the end of the book. Personally, I'm always satisfied when a story is wrapped up at the end of a book, and this one also involves a change for one of our main characters. Meaning readers get some character development with their adventure.
In the event that you are one of those adults who can't resist pushing a little education with your kids' recreational reading, you can check out Wood's Story Behind Into the Volcano for an account of his research--told graphically.
The Ask and the Answer
Chaos Walking, Book Two
by Patrick Ness
Warning: This review is slightly spoilerish to the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, so if you haven't read that book, I recommend you stop now and read it first. I loved the first book, but qualified my review with a caution about the ending. Having read the second book, I can now give the series an unqualified recommendation. It's an outstanding series, and one with a lot of teen appeal. My only warning is that bad things happen, and this isn't a series for sensitive readers.
My Review of The Knife of Never Letting Go
The Ask and the Answer was an unexpected surprise. I knew it would be good - I think I hardly even breathed while reading The Knife of Never Letting Go - but I didn't expect it to go in the direction that it did. The Knife of Never Letting Go was one long, breathless flight, with Todd and Viola alternately running from and battling the forces from Prentisstown. The cliffhanger ending led you to believe that the second book would be more of the same. And while The Ask and the Answer picks up where The Knife of Never Letting Go left off, Ness turns everything upside down and forces you to question your assumptions and look at everything and everyone in a new light.
I don't want to say too much and ruin the book, but The Ask and the Answer finds Todd and Viola separated, and at times, on opposite sides. They are each, in their own way, doing what they can to stand up for what's right, but right and wrong aren't always clear, and it's hard to know who, or what, to believe.
The Ask and the Answer is a deep, powerful, and sometimes disturbing book, which asks such questions as, do the ends ever justify the means? And if one side is evil, does that make the opposition good? There are echoes of the Holocaust, particularly in the treatment of the Spackle. The Ask and the Answer is as breathlessly unputdownable as The Knife of Never Letting Go, but it's also a book that shakes you up and makes you think. It's a book that I think will have strong appeal to teens.
Guest Review by David
My 14-year-old son David also reviewed this book. Here is his review:
Oh, my gosh. Was it even possible for this book to top it's predecessor? Yup. If anything, this book is even more well written than The Knife of Never Letting Go, and that's saying a lot. The characters are all great, from the villains, to the heros, to those who just aren't sure what they are. And the plot? The plot is the best part. I don't want to give away too much, but it's almost impossible to put down The Ask and The Answer after you start. This book has quickly risen up my list of favorite books, along with The Knife. I've already reread them both twice, and I still can't get enough!
Whereas the first book ended leaving the reader with a feeling of defeat, this book, even though it has no less of a climactic ending, gives you a better feeling. More "Aaaaaaaah!" as opposed to "Noooooo!" if you will. If you enjoyed The Knife of Never Letting Go, there's no way you shouldn't read this book.
The Ask and the Answer is a 2009 Cybils Nominee
Disclosures: we received a review copy of The Ask and the Answer from the publisher at my request. The links above are Amazon.com affiliate links, and if you purchase the books (or anything else) through those links, we'll earn a very small percentage. None of these things influenced the reviews.
The following books were nominated for the 2009 Cybils in the Fantasy/Science Fiction category at the Teen level:
Soulstice (The Devouring #2)
by Simon Holt
Nominated by: Melanie
Reviewed by: Nettle
by Anne Osterlund
Nominated by: Mia Thompson
Reviewed by: Nettle
Amaranth Enchantment, The
by Julie Berry
Nominated by: Stacey (AKA Aubrey)
Reviewed by: Gwenda007
by Daniel And Dina Nayeri
Nominated by: Finn
ArchEnemy (The Looking Glass Wars)
by Frank Beddor
Nominated by: Shannon Messenger
As You Wish
by Jackson Pearce
Nominated by: Abby
Reviewed by: Nettle
by Malinda Lo
Nominated by: Michelle