Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Homeland Directive by Robert Venditti

Dr. Laura Regan is wanted for a crime she didn’t commit and chased by government agents that don’t exist.  Her only hope for survival and to stop a deadly biological attack that could kill millions is to trust a group of disgruntled government agents trying to stop the very government that conspires against her.

This feels like it could be on the big screen at any moment.  The visuals, pacing,  and presentation feel very much like a big screen techno-thriller and I don’t think that’s an accident.  Loads of comic books (even those without any superpowers) are being turned into movies these days, so anyone that can draw has a good chance of getting their screenplay noticed, by making it into a comic book.  This isn’t to say Directive is in anyway a bad comic and I think loads of people will enjoy reading this movie as much as I did, but I did find myself thinking that sometimes the way a panel was laid out or the POV of characters jumped around felt maybe too movielike.  I might be totally reading too much into that, so definitely don’t take my word for it.  I do heartily recommend it as a fun popcorn thriller with some really nice twists and turns.  It is also a very effective look at technology and privacy issues.  So if you want to read an action movie, this is a really good bet.

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick YP FIC BICK

Alex went on a trip to the woods to say goodbye to her dead parents and to prepare for death herself.  The Monster in her brain that keeps growing and growing won’t keep her from one last trip, but a strange pulse changes all that: Changes everything.  Good news: she has her sense of smell back and no headaches.   Bad news: everyone except people middle aged or older have turned into mindless, flesh eating beasts.  Now Alex, a young girl she has sworn to protect, and a mysterious young man named Tom have to face the woods, the beasts, and most dangerous of all: adults.

This is my favorite zombie book of the year hands down.  It is gory, grisly, gruesome, and has excellently realized characters and a slowly built up sense of tension and dread.  The slowly built romance between Tom and Alex feels real and earned and enhances the plot instead of seeming tacked on to get more readers.  The different adult villains are just as creepy and menacing as the zombies and Bick smartly starts out with very few zombie attacks at first, so that every encounter is chilling.  This is great hooror, great dystopian fiction, and just a great story filled with believable and interesting characters.  I highly recommend it to almost everyone.  

I have two warnings: First, if you have a weak stomach for gore you might want to skip this one, or at least the gorier pages. Second, there is a big change in storyline and characters in the book about 2/3s of the way through and ends on a sort of unresolved note.  A lot of people may be thrown by this or even angry.  I think it works for the overall story, but your mileage may vary.

Level Up by Gene Yang Illustrated by Thien Pham YP FIC YANG

Dennis is at a crossroads; his focus on videogames over classwork has him about to flunk out of college.  He finds a new (and entirely unwanted) sense of purpose when visited by a group of chibi* angels that tell him they are there to help him fulfill his destiny: to become a gastroenterologist!  This leads to long nights of studying and new friends.  But a crisis of faith in his unshakable gastroenterologist destiny (namely how much poop is involved) leads Dennis to question his angels and see their less than angelic side.

This is a charming and unusual coming of age for dorks comic about the weight of family expectations and generational guilt.  I really couldn’t relate too directly to Dennis’s slackerdom or his ready acceptance of agreeing so readily to his hallucinations whims, but I liked him a lot in spite of that.  His willingness to assume the floating angels are real and do whatever they want instead of check himself into the nearest mental health care facility didn’t seem unrealistic, it just says a great deal about poor Dennis’s state of mind.  The angels and the ludicrousness of Dennis’s choices make for some great humor and also build to a genuinely satisfying emotional ending.  This doesn’t feel as deeply personal or as ambitious as American Born Chinese, (which I think is Yang’s best) but it is a very strong simple work that brims with fun from odd beginning to weird end.   If you like comics about people and their problems, comics about nerd culture, or just want to enjoy a good story, check this one out.

*Manga (Japanese Comics) term meaning they have hugenormous heads and small bodies.  Like Hello Kitty!

Daybreak by Brian Ralph

You are one of the remaining few.  Surrounded on all sides by the undead you rely solely on your new one-armed friend to guide you through the apocalyptic wasteland in the best first-person zombie comic of the year!

This book takes a rather sizable risk from the very first panel: it breaks the fourth wall.  Meaning a character looks directly into the panel and addresses the audience.  This is a first-person comic, so the main character (you) never speaks and we never see you.  This may strike some readers as gimmicky and I’m sure some people will prefer a hero we can see, but I loved the novel attempt to immerse the reader. The art is cartoony and unique. Ralph uses super thick and scratchy outlines and empty white space with just a few scratch marks for detail.  It makes for a look that is both cluttered and spare and fits very well for an apocalyptic look.  The characters for the most part are a bit stock to the zombie genre, but Ralph has a real sense of pacing and dialogue that had me care about the story anyways.  The one exception is your nameless one-armed guide.  He is a funny, unusual, and ultimately tragic figure that I found myself rooting for and missing whenever he wasn’t on screen. He is in many ways the hero of the story and the first person narrative is just a way to view things differently.  This isn’t going to be for all comic or zombie fans and it is a little on the short side, but if you want something truly different, take a risk with Daybreak.

The Watch that Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf YP FIC WOLF

A novel in verse that has 24 different voices from the Titanic, including famous figures like Molly “the Unsinkable Brown, Captain E.J. Smith, and John Jacob Astor and less famous figures.  These include a Lebanese immigrant discovering first love, a con artist, a tailor with a broken heart, and the iceberg itself. 

This could have been a disaster almost as bad as the Titanic herself! An iceberg with a point of view!?  Poems about how the Captain of the Titanic feels bad!?  Really!?  Yes, really and it’s really, truly good.  Wolf does an excellent job of having a strong set of incredibly well researched characters that feel real and quite different from each other. The well written verse adds a truly emotive level to all the passages and allows for much quicker communication of ideas and feelings, which is vital with such a large cast.  It also helps you feel like you see right into the heart of every character and truly hear their voices.  This book truly captures the monumental importance of a tragedy like the Titanic and makes it a timeless and universal tale of arrogance, love, loss, class, and just about every other major issue facing humans.  A great read for fans of verse novels or anybody looking for something memorable. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

2012 Alex Awards

Every year the Young Adult Library Services Association bestows the Alex Awards, which recognize novels written for adults but still have a unique appeal to youths ages 12 to 18. Check out the list below:

Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin
The acclaimed author of Repeat After Me presents a scathingly funny and moving novel about a 16-year-old girl who becomes caught in a controversy that might bring down her whole school — a scandal that has something to do with the fact Judy is three feet nine inches tall.
In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard
The beguiling fourteen-year-old narrator is a late bloomer used to flying under the radar. Luckily, she has a best friend, a similarly undiscovered girl with whom she shares the everyday adventures of a 1970s American girlhood but in time, their friendship is tested.
The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan
The nameless narrator of David Levithan's The Lover's Dictionary has constructed the story of his relationship as a dictionary. Through these short entries, he provides an intimate window into the great events and quotidian trifles of being within a couple, giving us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time.
The New Kids: Big dreams and brave journeys at a high school for immigrant teens by Brooke Hauser
A singular work of narrative journalism, The New Kids chronicles a year in the life of a remarkable group of these teenage newcomers — a multicultural mosaic that embodies what is truly amazing about America.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
It is called Cirque des Rêves and it is only open at night. But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway - a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will.
Ready Player One by Earnest Kline
It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be. Wade dreams of being the one to discover a series of fiendish puzzles hidden inside the OASIS that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them.
Robopacalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
In the near future, at a moment no one will notice, all the dazzling technology that runs our world will unite and turn against us. Robopocalypse is a brilliantly conceived action-filled epic, a terrifying story with heart-stopping implications for the real technology all around us and an entertaining and engaging thriller unlike anything else written in years.
Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward
A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. As the twelve days that make up the novel's framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family — motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce — pulls itself up to face another day.
The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston
A spirited, visually lush, and stunning novel, inspired by the art of scrapbooking and told through a kaleidoscopic array of vintage postcards, letters, magazine ads, ticket stubs, catalog pages, fabric swatches, candy wrappers, fashion spreads, menus, and more, starring an unforgettable heroine and set in the burgeoning bohemian culture of the 1920s.