Fiction, Graphic Novel, Reviews, Teen, Teen Non-Fiction, Tween

Review: Last of the Sandwalkers by Jay Hosler

Last of the SandwalkersHosler, J. (2015). Last of the sandwalkers. New York: First Second.

The last time I went to the library, I may have gotten a little carried away. You see, our local branch has three sections of graphic novels. One section is for juvenile titles, one is for teen and the other adult. Being a huge comic lover, I have a weakness for graphic novels and spent an inordinately large amount of time selecting a rather large stack from the latter two sections.

Being that I have worked with entomologists in the past (that is a scientist who studies insects), I immediately noticed the insect on the cover and figured, if it turned out to be half-way decent I would let my former co-workers know (they have both retired), as they still help educate volunteers and the community. No harm, no foul. Right?

Unfortunately, my lackluster expectations led to this title sitting on my dining room table for 2 renewal cycles, until it made it’s way to the coffee table where my teenager picked it up during the summer break from school, and reported back that it was “good.” Gee. Thanks for the detailed synopsis, kid.

I should have taken that as a sign of its merit. I am constantly recommending books and media to my kid, who promptly tells me “Nah, no thanks,” only to decide a month or two down the road to tell me about about this great new book or media site…the exact same one, but obviously much more enjoyable now that Mom’s recommendation has passed some imaginary statute of limitations. Yes. This is where I am sticking my tongue out at my child.

With this glowing review, I thought, ok, I really should dig deeper into this pile of novels to get them back to the library. I picked it up, arrogantly glanced at the black and white panels, and thought about how the artwork is just as important as the storyline in a graphic novel, and how, to use a Jane Austen paraphrase, it wasn’t handsome enough to tempt me. UGH! I’m kicking myself now.

I got an email notice from the library to return the book, lest the unmentionable happen (therefore I’m NOT mentioning it), and figured, well, the kid said it was good, and if I’m going to assess that statement AND save my library account, I need to read it now. And read it I did.

Yes, the panels are in black and white. Some have a lot going on, which made it difficult for my over-stressed eyes to settle down and take it all in (I think it’s important to note my kid had NO problem with them, so I KNOW it was me). But, by page 3, I had adjusted fine and was starting to see scientific accuracy within the artistic expression . By page 6, the story-line had me dialed in and by the end of the book I was wishing it was a series.

This is a graphic novel about beetles, all sorts of beetles working with, and against each other; about chosen families; adoption; exploration; scientific discovery; treachery; villainy; the fight of science against ignorance; mystery; history; perseverance and science fact! It’s CHOCKED-full of facts about nature, beetle behavior and anatomy, and it’s woven effortlessly into the story-line. It’s absorbed organically, and then for those that want to know more information, there are notations in the back of the book.

last of the sandwalkers 3

Lucy has decided she wants to explore other life outside the oasis, New Coleopolis. She’s been granted a small stipend for her, and her team (Mossy, Raef, and Professor Bombardier), to venture out and record their observations. This might seem like small potatoes, save for the fact that no one has left New Coleopolis for generations, since the original Coleopolis was destroyed, in what citizens were told was the displeasure of a deity they failed to appease. Unfortunately, the government toadie, Professor Owen, has insisted that he tag along to oversee their efforts (IE. boss them around). The part he forgets to mention is his intention to sabotage their mission, dispose of the team and take credit for their findings, presenting his own spin on their meaning…all in a most insidious manner.

Initially, you can tell that Lucy’s team is close, though you never question they are colleagues. Later you learn their interpersonal relationships go much, much deeper. You watch their talents and capabilities emerge, their backstories and their natural traits. Then you find that the rabbit hole goes much, much deeper, in large part due to the actions of the two eldest team members when they were young, and a daring mission to do what was right, versus what they were told.

Add to that a cyborg beetle, heroic rescues, exiled storytellers, gadgets, assassination attempts, intrigue, love and triumph and by the end, you wonder how in the world all of that plot came out of so few words. It’s one of the things I love most about graphic novels…good graphic novels. They tell stories and convey information across multiple receptors, multiple dimensions. Just as written word and verbal storytelling are/were traditional during different periods of time, I see the rise in graphic novels as a 21st century storytelling tradition building out of 20th century roots. It’s a new era of storytelling that combines elements of previously accepted types, and has the ability to reach broader audiences and different types of learners, especially reluctant readers, helping to educate on topics that may be sensitive or complex in ways that allow increased information retention. I’ve been saying that for years!!!

The good news is, this is not the author’s (Jay Hosler) first rodeo! In addition to being a professor and biologist, he makes science comics…on all sorts of subjects! Before this book he wrote a book on bees. He has others on mites, evolution and the eye. And his comics…oh my gosh…his COMICS!!! (if you can’t tell, click on that giant, underlined, contrasting word “comics” (see, I did it again!) to go to his website and see individual science comic strips) Where were these when I was a kid trying to learn basic science concepts?! I mean, I got most of them, but this would have made some of the trickier nuances SO MUCH EASIER to remember, especially in a non-neuro-typical brain!

So what did  I do? I ran straight to the entomologist I used to work with and started absolutely gushing over Hosler’s work and she is pretty jazzed to read it. I will admit, the online list I maintain for her, of science books and resources, was definitely on my mind when reading Last of the Sandwalkers, as a great way to encourage kids in elementary, middle school and up, to give science concepts they may have struggled with, one more chance. This work proves that a book can be both fiction and non-fiction at the same time. These novels and comics make science relatable, entertaining and easy to understand and that’s the way that information sharing SHOULD be.

Major kudos to Jay Hosler for the reminder that learning should be fun, joyful, exciting and riveting and for showing us all what kind of a difference a good story makes.

Thank you.

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Fiction, LGBTQ+, Life Lessons, Reviews, Teen, Uncategorized

Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Saenz, B. A. (2018). Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Place of publication not identified: Thorndike Press.

It is not often that I lament having to return a library book, but this, this is one of those times.

I walked into my local library to pick up a hold during Pride month (June). There was a small but impactful display of LGBTQ+ titles, and being the book and philosophy nerd I am, not to mention aficionado of teen and juvenile fiction, I was immediately drawn to this title. I especially like books for younger readers on what can be considered difficult or complex topics, like coming to terms with your sexuality or gender identity, anxieties, expectations, familial and community reactions.

Materials (not just books) of this type are essential, as they help younger patrons explore these complicated topics, experience diversity and empathy, see feasible “real-world” examples that might mirror their own, and provide insight and connection. Do you know what’s even more wonderful about it? These types of titles ALSO help adults in the exact same way, providing a more personal, poignant and less intimidating format to learn, and grow.

It’s like that Jeopardy champion who won millions of dollars and people wondered how he would ever be stopped and if he could be beaten (FYI he was beaten by a LIBRARIAN. BOOYAH!) . When asked how he prepared to answer so many questions on so many different titles, he said that at first he had a hard time figuring out how he was going to understand and remember difficult information that he might not necessarily want to, if he was reading it from a dry reference book. So he went and looked up the same topics but in the children’s section! The principles, stories and facts were presented in such a way that they were more easily explained, absorbed and retained in children’s books! And while teen literature is arguably a lot more complex, in some ways, than juvenile literature, being that it is not adult literature, I feel like it can still come under the umbrella of children’s services/literature, and there you have it. What a great tool to foster community understanding in a non-threatening manner for all ages.

But back to the book.

Angel Aristotle Mendoza is a Mexican-American (third generation) teenager in the 1980’s, living in El Paso; a loner, with a complicated back story and a whole lot of unexpressed and repressed emotions. His dad, a postal carrier, was never the same after Vietnam, quiet and a little lost, almost fragile. His mother, a teacher, is firm but loving. His twin sisters are so much older than he, that it’s almost a generational gap, and they have long ago moved out and married. His brother, Bernardo, they never speak of. It’s almost like he doesn’t exist. All his photos have been packed away and no trace remains. This has never sat right with Aristotle (Ari), and he just doesn’t know why it has to be this way.

Bernardo is in jail. He was sent away when Angel was younger, and the silence surrounding the gaping hole left in the aftermath is oppressive to Ari. He just doesn’t understand his parents. He feels alone. He has no friends. He is an old soul in a young body, weary and confused. Where once he loved to tell stories, he now just locks all the words away, but there is fire. Oh there is fire, deep inside of him, and it rages. He doesn’t go looking for fights, he says, but he can hold his own.

One summer day, knowing his mother is fretting over him, he ducks out and tells her he is going to go swim at the local pool. There’s just one hitch. Ari doesn’t know how to swim. But, he goes to the pool anyway. Enter Dante Quintana.

Dante’s smile seems to light up the world. He is personable, helpful, smart, creative, emotional, and friendly. Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim, and for some reason he doesn’t immediately know, the ever independent Ari agrees, quickly building a strong bond with Dante and eventually, Dante’s affectionate parents, an English professor and a psychologist. Much like Ari, Dante’s also a third generation Mexican-American and feels a bit like he doesn’t belong, though he constantly tells Ari that Ari is “more Mexican” than he is, but they are both good boys who want to be bad.

“All afternoon, I sat in a large comfortable chair in Dante’s room and he lay down on his newly made bed. and he read poems.

I didn’t worry about understanding them. I didn’t care about what they meant. I didn’t care because what mattered is that Dante’s voice felt real. And I felt real. Until Dante, being with other people was the hardest thing in the world for me. But Dante made talking and living and feeling seem like all those things were perfectly natural. Not in my world,. they weren’t.

I went home and looked up the word “inscrutable.” It meant something that could not easily be understood. I wrote down all the synonyms in my journal. “Obscure.” “Unfathomable.” “Enigmatic.” “Mysterious.”

That afternoon, I learned two new words. “Inscruptable.” and “friend.”

Words were different when they lived inside of you.”

Ari and Dante automatically feel normal together. They talk, or don’t, sit or read, swim or run. They spend every spare moment together, laughing, playing, learning, growing and one day, in the midst of a rain storm, Ari saves Dante’s life. Ariends up in the hospital, with both legs and an arm in a cast and a strong desire to not ever discuss the accident again, nor everyone’s undying gratitude. Ari makes a lot of rules, and “Do not talk about the accident” is top on the list.

Not long after, Dante’s family moves to Chicago for a year, to do a trial run with a university that wants to hire Dante’s father, the professor.  Dante writes and writes. Ari, more angry and confused than ever, reads but only responds belatedly, and then infrequently at best. He thinks about his brother, a lot. He listens to Dante test boundaries and stretch wings as he tries pot and beer, and kissing a girl. He also listens when Dante finds that he’d rather be kissing boys, and eventually that Dante would rather be kissing Ari, though they don’t really say anything about it.

Eventually, Dante moves back to El Paso, and that’s when things have to be dealt with, they have to change, and as with most transitions there is confusion, and pain but also light and breath and release and joy. And not just between Dante and Ari, but Dante and his parents, a potential suitor, bullies and another hospital episode: between Ari and his parents, the ghost of Bernardo, bullies, potential friends and in particular, between Ari and himself.

Honestly, this novel has everything. It is fast paced with short chapters that read like a biopic, from Ari’s perspective. It’s gritty and real, difficult and wonderful. It makes your heart ache, your pulse race, and your eyes glisten. It shows such a depth of love and understanding in a world where we all frequently feel out of joint and you feel like you are right there, in the thick of it;  in the rain storms and fear, the sunlight and acceptance, the street, the car, the fights, the hugs, the hospital rooms and Ari’s chair and even his sick bed. It talks about the struggle to fit in within your town, your country,  your sub-culture, your ethnicity, your gender, your family and yourself. It talks about expectations and living genuinely. There’s a dog, a gorgeous old truck, a desert, human foibles, death, life, rebirth and most importantly love. There is so much of it. And revelation. And healing. Palpable.

“As Dante was watching me search the sky through the lens of a telescope he whispered, “Someday, I’m going to discover all the secrets of the universe.”

It was so wonderful that I literally hugged the book after I read the last page, with tears in my eyes, and despite the fact that I have already read it, one day I will own this book, and it will definitely be re-read over and over. And the biggest testament of all: I have already recommended it to my favorite, 13 year old.

 

Fiction, Graphic Novel, Reviews, Teen

Review: Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

512OP4XRiJL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_Hicks, F. E. (2012). Friends with boys. New York: First Second.

Since I was a kid, the library was a place for adventure. Sure, I could just reliably (most of the time) go to pick-up the books or media I had previously requested. But, when I was feeling particularly daring (I’m actively working on getting back to that feeling more often now-a-days), I would wander the stacks, caressing books spines, or silently uttering titles, until something would call out to me.

Now, often we say don’t judge a book by its cover, but books where graphics are a huge part of the storytelling medium (and even some that don’t), rely on the appearance of the cover to give a glimpse, a flavor, a taste of the content within. It’s a reflection, and sometimes, that reflection, or even just the title are enough to make the hand that was previously gently tracing the paper, linen, plastic and glue based ley-lines of the library stop and grab hold; the first step being almost divine-spiritual, the second being intellectual-spiritual once we begin to flip through the pages looking for a preview of its hidden secrets.

One such recent adventure reminded me that I haven’t lost my touch and that this wandering (“Not all who wander are lost”, so my e-mail signature and J.R.R. Tolkien have told me for the better part of 20 years), this not knowing, this discovery is incredibly thrilling, connecting, and essential to me. It is intuition and magic, and the steady guiding hand of the Universe.

This is how I found “Friends With Boys” by Faith Erin Hicks.

Maggie is starting her very first day of high school. In fact, it’s her very first day of public school. She, and her three older brothers, were all home-schooled by their now-absent mother, and are being raised by their newly appointed police chief father. She’s nervous. Her older brothers are less than supportive, with more of a “sink until you swim” kind of methodology. She has no friends. She loved being home-schooled but it is the appointed time and she goes forward with some righteous fear, but tenacity none-the-less and on the way to school her first day we find, she can also see the 100 year old ghost of a woman in the town graveyard, that has been coming and going since she was a child, never saying a word.

How will she navigate high school with a ghost, and the memory of her mother tailing her? How will she find friends and what happens when the friends she just might find don’t meet with the approval of one of her brothers? What is with the animosity raining down from the boy’s volleyball team? Is her oldest brother actually one of the cool kids? Will one of her twin brothers succeed in running away? Is there a way to appease the ghost? Can she find herself among the madness, how is she going to get out of jail and what is the bombshell that her brothers reveal at the end of the book?!

This little book packs SO much into it. The graphics are all in black and white, which can be a turn-off for some people, but it is so beautifully rendered, both realistic and emotional, reminding me a little bit of the illustrations I saw in Neil Gaiman’s (non-graphic novel version) “The Graveyard Book.” At some point you just instinctively see the colors in your own mind and the heavy inking relays every emotion, so much so that it just pulls you along with it. But the fun is in the myriad of plot points and stressors, problem solving, and joy, trouble and sadness, all the chaos of a daily teenage experience with the paranormal thrown in for flavor (totally up my alley). The characters are all well developed and rich, relatable and personal. You become invested.

I’m happy to report that a little digging had me finding out that not only is the author, Faith Erin Hicks, a Pacific Northwesterner (Vancouver, B.C.), but, more often than not now, it seems, this too started off as a web comic (http://friendswithboys.com/). But,  I can’t seem to find that it was continued much beyond the printing of the book, though Faith Erin Hicks work definitely has, including many popular comic book titles and recently her first novel (can’t wait to read it!)! Check them out on her website: http://www.faitherinhicks.com/.

I love web-comics in that they are such a solid, grass-roots way of getting independent artists’ work into the world, where previously only print could do that, and only then if you were fortunate enough to fall into a place where printing was an option. So, support them if you can and share, most definitely, regardless. This is, without a doubt, a graphic novel I intend to own, and revisit, even though the cliff-hanger ending will always leave me wanting more! But, that’s a testament to her mastery of the genre.

In the meantime, I will be following her on social media, thanking the local library for carrying this graphic novel (I love how my local branch has a teen AND an adult graphic novel section!!!) , and going back to the library catalog to see if her novel will be counted among the collection soon, and if not, well, that’s what the suggestion button is for.

Ciao!

Fiction, Historical Fiction, Reviews, Teen, Tween

Review: Mare’s Ware by Tanita S. Davis

81tK28vVUjL.jpgDavis, T. S. (2011). Mares war. New York: Ember.

Two teenage girls are forced, by their parents, to take a cross-county trip with their grandmother for a “family reunion,” a grandmother who they find to be eccentric, who they believe they have nothing in common with, and whose presence they find inconvenient at best.

In an age of technology and consumerism, what could these teens possibly find as common ground with a wild, grandmother, who refuses to use the title, but instead goes by Mare, a short form of her name “Marey Lee”, but also phonetically the same sound as “mother” in French? As the road wears on, and Mare tells the girls about her time in the 6888th battalion, in the Woman’s Army Corp. during World War II, they realize how much of a trailblazer she was, how unique her experience and how much they can learn, even if it’s subconscious. They draw closer, in their efforts to understand one another, and see Mare for who she is rather than what she may appear to be on the surface.

She tells them of how she served in the only African-American women’s unit to serve overseas during the war. She weaves the tale of her humble beginnings, her tenacity of spirit, her protection of family, how she accomplished what her own mother assumed she never would. They learned how she took a hand full of no’s and made them into her kind of yeses. The learn to be brave through her tales of bravery, hardship and tenacity. They learn camaraderie, and gratitude for the trail that she blazed, which directly affected their own privileges, two generations later. They learn to appreciate each other, and the world on a whole different level, because of her stories, her sacrifices, understanding, and grit. They come to understand how far the world, and the county has come, but how much farther it still has to go, and how those of color fought more than one war simultaneously, one abroad, and another one here at home they never thought they’d win. Now it’s her granddaughters’ responsibility, and our own, to take up her fight, for equality.

 

5FourUnitMembersWithJeepfromDefense_sm
Four women from the 6888th (Source)

 

This is marketed as a YA (Young Adult) book, but would be good for high level readers in the 4th or 5th grade, through middle school. It’s short chapters and interspersed postcards from the girls’ to their parents and friends help bring the stories of the past into the future, appeal to shorter attention spans and reminds you that this isn’t just a story, it’s part of current affairs, it’s part of life, it’s part of the fabric of society and relevant to all.  It was a great book to read during Black History Month, though I did not check it out with that in mind. I checked it out looking for Y.A. novels on WWII and there is a surprising lack of them, particularly in non-fiction! This fiction, however, allows an emotional connection and exploration that most non-fiction can’t hope to touch and I can only hope that this review will serve as the impetus for more people to read it!

It never ceases to amaze me, the stories of those who gave everything to fight for a country that treated them as second class citizens or worse, the consequence of which may also have left them alienated from their own homes and families as well, particularly once the war was over. There are many such stories during WWII (W.A.C.s, W.A.S.P.S, Tuskeegee Airmen, 442nd Infantry, Navajo Code Talkers, just to name a few!) and while the hardships these groups encountered and lived through are dark chapters in American history, they need to be told, taught, learned from and built upon. The sacrifices and experiences need to be respected and never, ever forgotten.

Thank you, Ms. Davis, for giving us one such perspective, and telling it so beautifully, thoughtfully, personally and insightfully. You can’t help but want to be just as tough and driven as your Marey Lee Boylen, and want to fight for the justice she so rightly deserves. I hope she, and her story, will inspire future generations to change the world for the better, so that we aren’t doomed to repeat our past mistakes, or those that came before us.

Dark Fantasy, Dystopian Literature, Fiction, Reviews, Teen

Review: Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

Mortal Engines Book CoverReeve, P. (2018). Mortal engines. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Hundreds of years after humanity has permanently altered the landscape of the planet and wiped out the majority of its population and resources in what is know as the “Sixty Minute War”, Earth has gone from being “dog-eat-dog” to a “city-eat-city” world.  The last remnants of human settlements have rebuilt their cities onto mobile platforms, capturing and consuming those smaller or less fortunate than themselves across the wastes of “The Hunting Grounds”, otherwise known as the Out-Country, which is roughly what we would know, geographically, as residing across the (now) large open area and marshes stretching between Portugal and Tibet.

Those who live in these traction cities, both small and large, tend to look down upon surface dwellers, i.e. those who have founded permanent settlements on islands, inhabitable areas or in the “Anti-Traction League” capital, which sits behind a great defensive wall near near what was once known as Mt. Everest. They consider them uncouth and unsophisticated, barbarians who are no more than beasts. Imagine the surprise of one life-long traction city tenant, Tom, when he finds himself inadvertently behind enemy lines after a string of unfortunate events, only to discover a colorful, lively, flourishing civilization among its people, a people who do not deserve to die due to the greed and corruption of politicians gone mad with power and delusion. People like his own honorable mayor of London.

Ah yes, but how does Tom reach the Anti-Traction League? How does he find himself removed from his traction-city, a sentence tantamount to death for any traction-city citizen? How has he survived the Out-Country? Who is the horribly disfigured girl, Hester, who he now travels with, and how have their paths intertwined? You’ll have to read the book!

Ok, ok. I’ll give you some spoilers. Don’t read on if you want to be surprised.

Tom is about 16 years old and working as a level 3 apprentice in the History Guild of the traction-city, London. After hiding for many years, with resources dwindling, the great city of London is on the prowl for fresh prey, with a new secret mission privy only to the mayor, some of the his former Engineer’s guild, and the head of the Historian’s Guild (and Tom’s personal hero), Thaddeus Valentine, famed archaeologist and explorer, who also happens to have a daughter Tom’s age, who he develops a crush on. It’s all for the glory of the great city of London (the mission, not the crush) a way to show its supremacy and ensure its survival, so the citizens are led to believe.

Enter Hester Shaw. Stealing aboard London city, Hester attempts to assassinate Valentine, which leads to a near fatal leg would, a chase by Tom , a sudden and unexpected betrayal, and in short, he and Hester find themselves in the Out-Country, would-be-enemies, that find common purpose and common ground in their quest to return to London, initially for different reasons, only to find their reasons become more similar as the know each other better and the way of the real world becomes much clearer. But first, they have to survive.

In the course of their survival, Tom learns that his idol was the cause of not only Hester’s disfigurement at a young age, but also the loss of her parents, a fate that Tom, also an orphan, feels keenly. (Hester also finds out a shocking connection to Valentine’s daughter, Katherine). At the same time, he learns of a mysterious artifact from the time of the Sixty Minute War, the apparent impetus for Valentine’s betrayal, and Hester’s suffering, only to find out , that it is was the missing component for an ancient weapon set to destroy the Anti-traction nation of Shan Guo and it’s massive wall, opening up the resistance’s resources to London, with the ultimate aim of stripping the planet itself bare,  growing and moving on to destroy other worlds…a planet eater, like a galactic virus…eating and consuming, destroying everything in its path, “for the glory of London”, leaving nothing but devastation in its path.

Tom meets steampunk-like air-ship pilots (my favorite), pirates, monks, love interests, new friends, betrayals, destruction and rebirths. He learns more about himself, what he needs, what he wants, and what he believes through hardship, but also, about the real plight of the world, instead of the fantasy version he was brought up in and now, he aims to set things right, even if he didn’t start out that way. While Hester was a lot more world-wise than Tom, Katherine was not, and neither was the late comer, the ill-fated, young Engineer Pod, but all of them develop a new, keen sight throughout the course of the story, even when they may wish they did not.

You see them go through all the stages of grief and more  (see below) as the world they thought they knew slowly crumbles before them and they have to reassess and rebuild their perceptions of reality, including their beliefs and relationships with people they thought they knew, based on a fuller, more informed view, something that, even without the similarities in politics and international relations right now, is something that every person has to do at some point in their life, whether as a child moving into adulthood, or as an adult overcoming trauma, conditioning, and/or coming into your own.

Image result for stages of grief
Source: Via Google Image Search from BetterHelp.com

 

 

It’s no surprise that I loved this book. I put it on my Christmas list, with the anticipation that I would read it before passing it along to my kid, but I absolutely fell in love with the story and by the middle of it, I couldn’t put it down. I absolutely love that experience.

YA or Teen literature, and dystopian literature in particular, is one of my most favorite genres, and Philip Reeve does not disappoint. Some people have drawn the similarity between this story line and Star Wars, and I can totally see it, and you will too, particularly with the introduction of MEDUSA. But also, its the story of a reluctant hero, fallible and imperfect, floundering around the world until he gets it right, making mistakes left and right, until he begins to really find himself. It doesn’t make things any easier, and it doesn’t prevent mistakes, but it definitely provides clarity of purpose. I also drew some very strong similarities between this story and our own international affairs, which is exactly what dystopian literature is supposed to do. It’s supposed to keep, upfront in our minds, repressive regimes who often use propaganda machines to promote a utopian view, a holier-than-though image of the regime which keeps people submissive, or delusional, in this case, even in the light of savagery, loss of humanity and empathy and slavery in both life and death. It’s a fictional way to process some very real circumstances, and hopefully gives the reader a frame of reference they may not have previously had that will allow them to objectively assess bias and move forward in a more informed, educated, enlightened, and hopefully humane way. And while many of these dystopian novels are tragic, dark and sad, they also give me hope for enlightenment and again, rebirth. Knowledge is power. Knowledge means life.

Phew, that was deep.

Ok. So, Peter Jackson, of Lord of the Rings (film) fame, upon reading these books, bought the film rights and, after giving it to a director from his crew, this first book’s adaptation was recently released into the theaters to less than stellar reviews. HOWEVER, I fully intend to see it and give my two cents (though Hester in the movie stills is not NEARLY as disfigured as she is in the book, which I think detracts from it in someways, but that is typical Hollywood fashion, trying to downplay her disfigurement to make her more palatable to a larger audience, so take it as you will. Also I hear they downplayed the steampunk element which really makes me sad!), while trying to shelve my typical “it didn’t happen that way in the book” response (not doing so hot so far am I…keep trying, keep trying! 😉  ). Sometimes you just have to enjoy a movie for entertainment purposes, but I hear that Philip Reeve was pleased with the adaptation, so there is that.

And on that note, I am off to request the second book in the series from the library. Oh yes, there are three more, and then three prequels I hear. Wish me luck!

Shrike - Mortal Engine Movie Still

Dark Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Reviews, Teen, Tween, Uncategorized

Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (novel vs. graphic novel)

 

Gaiman, Neil. (2008). The Graveyard Book. New York: HarperCollins. 352 pages. ISBN 978-0-8037- 3187-5.

Awards/Selection Lists:
– Hugo Award
– Newbery Medal
– Locus Award
– Audie Award
– Indies Choice Book Award
– Indie Young Adult Buzz Book
– Cybils Award for Middle Grade Fantasy & Science Fiction
– Carnegie Medal
– Elizabeth Burr / Worzalla Award
– Premio El Templo de las Mil Puertas for Mejor novela extranjera independiente

 

Author’s Website: http://www.neilgaiman.com/

Brief Summary: One dreadful night an entire family was viciously, and inexplicably murdered, save one resourceful and curious toddler, who climbed out of his crib and toddled out the open front door and down the street as the viscous killer, with preternatural senses, completed his foul work, realized his error in allowing one family member to escape and began tracking the mysterious tot. Through a combination of luck, magic and pure circumstance, the youngster finds his way into a locked cemetery, where he is found and eventually sheltered by its ghostly inhabitants, with the killer hot on his heels.

Among the ghosts of the dead he is adopted, given the sanctuary of the graveyard and named “Nobody” or “Bod” for short. By the undead, who have the freedom to come and go from the cemetery, Bod is fed, clothed and educated.  With a knack for finding trouble where-ever it may be, he goes about his days living in a world between worlds, and along the way he meets friends and foes, both living and dead, from mysterious slithering Celtic burial-mound forces, to ghouls, to cryptids, to thieves, and disreputables, unaware that his family’s killer still searches for him year after year. But time is short. As Bod’s desire to stretch his wings beyond the confines of the graveyard grows, his spirit permissions and gift of sight wane, which means so does his allowable time in the graveyard, the only home and family he’s ever really known. How will he build a life outside of its walls, still a child?

Imagine, this backward life. Instead of going through life trying to find the answers to death, you begin life with death, and then have to learn how to live with the living! Can Bod discover the truth about his family’s killer, learn to live among the living, build a new life and leave behind the only family he has ever known? Can he continue to cheat death without the protection of the graveyard as his life-long, yet unknown nemesis breathes down his neck and worms his way into Bod’s protected circle? Will Bod uncover just how deep the conspiracy goes to remove all traces of his human family in time to stop it? Most importantly, will he survive existence among the mundane, once he no longer has a choice and how will he ever live without his unconventional adopted parents and guardian?

Personal Reaction: 
I LOVE this book. I’m a little obsessed with Neil Gaiman but you might know that by now, but books like this are exactly why. I loved it so much that I sped through reading it and then immediately picked up the graphic novel version (comparison a little further down).

This is considered a YA novel. I believe that’s pretty accurate, though the portion at the beginning talking about Bod’s family dying at the hands of a madman with a knife was a bit much )The graphic novel pics, while definitely cartoony were still a little over the top for me. BUT, that being said, I’d say the reading level is spot on…maybe 7th or 8th grade for typical readers. It’s dark in tone, and a little sad. As you move on you can feel the sadness and longing within Bod, and the foreboding in his adopted family, for they know he can’t stay forever, even if they wanted him to, but the more the living world draws him in, the less he sees and hears in the Graveyard, perhaps a metaphor for a loss of innocence, with a great Neil Gaiman twist.

Bod, other than living with ghost parents, is a typical kid, doing exactly what he’s been told NOT to do, complaining about lessons being boring, being intensely curious, putting himself in potentially mortal jeopardy, and learning significant lessons along the way. He’s a good kid. He wants to help those he loves, those less fortunate, but he also can’t help but long for a world just outside his grasp, like adulthood outside of puberty. He wants to know, he wants to love, he wants to live, but he is scared to let go of the world he knows and move on. He’s stuck in limbo, until the Universe really doesn’t give him any other choice. He dips his toe into the unknown, and those questions he didn’t want to answer now are thrust upon him and in answering them, he finds himself, his place, his voice, his direction and his confidence.

Bod’s story is EVERYbody’s story, which is why you may find yourself crying, or terrified as you walk through the journey with Bod, like you were looking into a mirror of your own image.

If you want to get a little less philosophical, read it because its familiar, dark, edgy, sweet, tender, and yet still unknown. Read it because it’s an amazing story on its own. Read the graphic novel (which comes in two parts, which killed me when I got to the end of the first one and didn’t have the second on hand) for the same reasons. But the graphic novel is more like a cliff notes version. Still you get the main pieces of plot and character, just not the minutiae, which made me hesitant for the first chapter or so, but really, after that, you’re just flipping through the pages faster than you realize, devouring the whole thing.

The art in the graphic novel is good..much like a typical comic book. The color palette really does exemplify the tone (I was constantly cold while I read it…I recommend a good blanket and tea nearby!). My favorite thing about the graphic novel, though, was that it gave me a visual of some of the characters I thought I knew so well, but obviously didn’t. The way they were conceptualized in the novel, with Gaiman’s approval of course, were sometimes far different than what I had imagined, or filled in a gap where I felt like I had no visual reference and I really liked that.  The content is well curated and it would be perfect for a reluctant reader, or someone who thinks they are too cool to read novels. 😉 But, no matter what, this book will be one of those pieces that becomes a part of you and your identity in a way many other books fall short. Neil Gaiman definitely did not miss the mark on this. Pure genius.

Dark Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Reviews, Teen

Review: Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Riggs, Ransom. (2014). Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Quirk Books. 416 pages. ISBN 9781594747359

Awards/Selection Lists:

– New York Times Bestseller List 2014
– Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction 2014
Author’s Website: http://www.ransomriggs.com/

 

Brief Summary:  Jacob and the remaining peculiar children are fighting for their lives, while being chased by deadly and evolving hollowghasts and wights. With ymbrynes being snatched, left and right, Miss Peregrine appears to be in danger of staying a bird forever, unless this rag tag group of refugees can find a safe haven and the last of ymbrynes to turn her back. With mysteries, narrow escapes, new friends and talents, regrets, betrayals, gypsies, enemies and dangers untold, Jacob and his friends discover and explore new time loops, including WWII England during The Blitz, fight beasts and bombs, trains and troops in an attempt to save peculiars and normals alike, all with only mere hours before Miss Peregrine’s transformation becomes permanent and the peculiars’ run the risk of turning to dust.
Personal Reaction: While even darker than the original installment of this series, Hollow City is full of intrigue and exploration, new characters and details, all leading to the deciphering of a series of  mysteries vital to anticipating the fate of Riggs’ characters, and even then, you’ll never see the twists coming. I did find it to be a slower read than the original, which I just couldn’t put down, and significantly sadder in tone, but it was compelling none the less and made me want to read Riggs’s “Tales of the Peculiars” (2016) even more than the third book of this trilogy, as it “Tales of the Peculiars” (2016) featured prominently throughout Hollow City as their treasured relic from their original time loop…a book… giving clues and hints to help the peculiars survive and find what they need through myths and stories.

That being said, I still can’t get enough of the photographs Riggs uses throughout the book, to help tell the story and appreciate the developing love story between Jacob and Emma, which is not sexualized but shows a unique blend of self-sacrificing maturity and the insecurity of youth in love.

Content Evaluation: Definitely a book for 6th grade and up, the content has many starts and stops that make following difficult if you are not paying attention. Dark and melancholy in tone, this must be taken into account when suggesting to readers. It’s an excellent blend of mystery, science fiction, historical fiction and even a little bit of fantasy, with a complex weave to the story. So, make sure your reader loves a challenge, a mystery, a survival story and won’t get discouraged by a slow passage or two, as the ending will leave their head spinning, but all in a good way.

 

 Enjoy Ransom Riggs’s book trailer for this title here: