Wednesday, May 30, 2012

In Darkness by Nick Lake YP FIC LAKE

“Shorty” is no stranger to darkness.  Even before the earth swallowed him up it was a familiar companion in Haiti.  Now, after the quake, trapped under the rubble, it is all he has.  But when he hears a voice in the darkness it is not one he knows, but one that stretches across two hundred years of the past to reach him.  It is Toussaint L'Ouverture, a slave, a leader, a man that died in darkness like Shorty is certain he will die.  What is the hero of Haiti telling Shorty, and can it save him?

I picked this up because the cover is gorgeous and I love Nick Lake’s Blood Ninja series.  To call this a departure would be understatement.  This is a dark book about darkness and about how evil, poverty, and tyranny can destroy souls and entire nations.  The blend of contemporary Haiti and that of the past really works well to show the timelessness and universality of the message of the novel: that in the greatest darkness there is still hope even if it remains unseen.  I was very pleasantly surprised that an author that excels at action-horror could write such a serious and moving work.  I felt the fear and hopelessness in Shorty’s life and the darkness encroaching.  It’s rare that a writer can transport you to a place so different from your own life and Lake pulls it off remarkably.  I was really impressed that the jump between modern day and the past didn’t feel gimmicky; it really adds something to the book and makes it special. I recommend this to fans of both contemporary and historical fiction, because it handles both so well.  In Darkness may not be a “fun” read, but it is one you’ll be glad you read. 

You can check our catalog for In Darkness here.

There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff YP FIC ROSOFF

What if God was a Teenage boy?  Well Bob is and things aren’t going so well.  He has his overworked assistant Mr. B to fix his messes, but it’s beyond a full time job.  Earth would be less chaotic if he had taken more than 6 days to make it, but he got lazy.  Now he’s in love (well lust at least) with a perfect girl named Lucy and that spells almost certain doom.  When Bob gets emotional, nature recoils. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and the like replace sweaty palms and butterflies in the stomach, so Earth and Lucy may not survive Bob’s raging emotions (hormones).

Right off the bat, this book will not be for everyone.  It is gleefully irreverent (purposely unserious) and controversial.  It takes the creation stories of multiple cultures and religions, throws them into a blender, and explains them as the whims of a not particular bright or motivated teenage boy.  So there’s that.  However, if that sounds like your cup of tea, you are in for a deep, witty, and fully unique ride.  The pure zaniness of the premise allow Rosoff to look at literally all aspects of human life, emotion, goodness, pettiness, and love though a universal and personal lens all at the same time.  Between the outrageous humor there is a lot of deep questions and insight. This is an inimitable book and anyone that wants a truly hilarious and challenging read should pick it up.

You can check our catalog for There is No Dog here.

Ripper by Stefan Petrucha YP FIC PETRUCHA

Carver Young has always dreamed of being a detective, but growing up in an orphanage in 1895 isn’t exactly a path to fame and glory.  When he receives a message from his biological father he never knew, he’s determined to track him down.  However this puts in in the middle of an investigation by a secret sect of the famed Pinkerton Detective Agency to track down the notorious Ripper that has traded London for the streets of New York. A mix of steampunk, mystery, and murder!

Ripper is a good but not truly great mystery-thriller.  The steampunk (futuristic technology set in the turn of the 20th century, often powered by steam) elements work really well and several are based on real technology of the time.  Petrucha adds then head of the NYC police, Teddy Roosevelt and his super awesome daughter Alice. The real life (and larger than life) historical figures provide some of the best scenes and lines of the book.  Another strength, is that the Pinkerton Detective Agency was awesome and stories about it always benefit from its awesomeness.  The weakness is a plot that takes too long to get going and a main character that never feels that complex or real.  However, if you stick with the book it picks up PUN ALERT steam, and has a strong ending.  If you want a good historical fiction mystery, this will be a good (but not truly great) choice.  I also recommend the Agency series by Y.S. Lee (YP FIC LEE) or the smashing Boy Sherlock Holmes series by Shane Peacock (YP FIC PEACOCK).

You can check our catalog for Ripper here.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen Illustrated by Rebecca Guay YP FIC YOLEN

All the dragons are gone from the island of May.  So when Tansy and her father discover Dragon’s Bane, an herb that only grows where dragons lie, no one will believe that a dragon still lives.  When Tansy’s father disappears she knows it is the dragon that she is partly responsible for awakening.  As the town’s new healer she must find a way to rally her town and find a true hero that can slay a dragon.  When instead all they can find is a con man, braggart named Lancot she realizes she’ll have to improvise. 

This is a truly lovely book.  Beautifully written, gorgeously illustrated, filled with magic and heart, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It succeeds magnificently as a straightforward fairy tale with excellent touches or romance and adventure, but it also works on deeper levels.  There’s a wonderful subtext about the role of women in society, about the pressure to become the people are parents want us to be, about the power of imagination in confronting fear and evil, and about the necessity of stories in our world.  The art is just perfect for a fairy tale. Each panel is like a mix between a illustration form a children’s book, a painting, and a modern comic.  It all works together seamlessly.  I especially applaud the character designs, far too many comics resort to clothes and hair to differentiate characters, but Rebecca Guay actually draws character’s with faces...that…look…different!!!  Novel concept I know!  I also thought it was great to have a strong female character, while beautiful, that isn’t defined by her beauty or running around in a ridiculously revealing outfit.  In fact, the character of Lancot is the eye candy, and in fitting with notions of beauty in classic times is drawn as attractive.  This is a treasure of a book and I hope people (yes even dudes) give it a chance and discover it’s magic.  It’s one of the rare comics that shows the potential of visuals to tell a deeper (or at least different) story than text alone can.  Hopefully it will also move people to check out Jane Yolen’s novels which are just brilliant as well.  Which you can read in YP FIC YOLEN.

You can check our catalog for The Last Dragon here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Judging Books by Their Covers

While officially a bad idea, judging books by their covers has some value in practice.  By looking at overall trends in book covers we can see the overall trends in how young people are represented in YA books.  Kate Hart set out to do exactly this and has reported her findings in a series of truly awesome charts and infographics.

The verdict: Out of close to 1,000 there were only 1.4 % featuring a Hispanic character, 1.4% featuring an Asian character, and 1.2% that feature a black character.


That is astoundingly terrible. That is NO WHERE NEAR the actual representation of those groups in society.  Why are publishers afraid of putting non-white models on covers (sometimes even when non-white characters are the protagonists!!!)? 

What do you guys think?

Do books reflect you?  Do we need more books with people of color?

The delightful series of inforgraphics also breaks down how incredinly repetitive some of the YA covers are getting.  Check the info out for yourself here.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony YP FIC ANTHONY

Glory was a piano prodigy that has turned the classical music world on fire with her missing of modern pop into complicated classic pieces.  Francisco was an Argentinian teen trying to make it in America.  When they met, they made beautiful music. Glory went mad, then missing. Through photographs, assorted objects, IMs, and letters, a mystery of love, music, and madness is revealed. 

This is a truly unique work. It’s a mystery told through found objects.  The reader is like a detective sorting through assorted clues and patching together the ‘real’ story of why Glory disappeared, but looks can be deceiving. There are scattered clues throughout the book that Glory is super mega bonkers and everything she imagined EVERYTHING.  Or you can read it as a super sweet mystery love story.  Either way there are loads of many mysteries to unlock.  Why is Glory obsessed with the song Chopsticks? What REALLY happened to her mother? The fun of solving the mysteries and pondering the big mystery of whether Glory is super crazy or just really stressed is grand fun. Not only is this a super great idea, the execution is superb nearly throughout.  The design of this book is absolutely excellent. The use of slowly revealing more and more through photos is really well handled and the layout are superb. For example, the book will show you the outside of a book or pamphlet on one page and the next page the pamphlet is opened, so you feel like you are leafing through these objects yourself.  My one quibble (and it’s a big quibble!) is that the photos of Glory and Francisco seem really stagey and sort of cheesy.  I never bought them as two real people, but maybe that works out since they may not be real at all!  MIND TRIP!

Check our catalog for Chopsticks here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

I finally got around to reading Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature back in 2007 and I've been hearing fantastic things about it ever since.

Wow, talk about a one-two punch.

The narrator of the tale, Junior, is now quite possibly one of my favorite characters. Ever. He will break your heart with his story even as he leaves you in stitches. He's funny and fearless and lovably human. And though hardly immune to his circumstances, nevertheless he forges resolutely on.

Junior has been beating the odds since the day he was born.

He wasn't expected to live past a procedure to remove cerebral spinal fluid from his brain as an infant. Instead, we find he's made it to his teen years in pretty good shape, if you can overlook the crippling poverty, rampant alcoholism and general malaise that afflicts the Spokane Indian Reservation.
It sucks to be poor, and its sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you're poor because you're stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you're stupid and ugly because you're Indian. And because you're Indian you start believing you're destined to be poor. It's an ugly circle and there's nothing you can do about it.

Poverty doesn't give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.
Junior, as you can see, is not afraid to tell it like it is.

His parents are drunks. His best friend has an abusive father. His school is so underfunded that it hasn’t updated its textbooks in least 30 years. Junior himself is a skinny, spectacle-wearing, book-kissing nerd, which doesn’t exactly earn him a lot of fans around the rez.

Then one day, prodded into action by his teacher, Junior decides to take his fate into his own hands. He decides to transfer to the all-white school in the neighboring town of Reardan, 22 miles away. His parents support the move, recognizing that it will allow Junior to get a better education and access to more opportunities. But they’re pretty much the exception. Junior's community proceeds to treat him like he's betrayed them. The Reardan High School kids ignore him.

Junior's beauty is how he weathers his hardships with such aplomb and good humor. Though lonely and confused, he hangs in there, funneling his energy into positive outlets, from doodling comics to joining the basketball team. And slowly but surely, things begin to change.

I recommend this book to anyone who's looking for a pick-me-up. Diary is a daring book, too, pushing the boundaries of young adult lit with its dark humor, language and examination of race, all of which has frequently landed it on Top 10 lists for most frequently challenged titles. We have it in book form (YP FIC ALEXIE; you'll get to see Junior's awesome doodles, drawn by Ellen Forney), audiobook (AD YP FIC ALEXIE), and downloadable audio. I listened to the audio version, which is narrated by the author. I'm sometimes leery of authors reading their own stuff but Sherman really knocks it out of the ballpark and brings 14-year-old Junior to life.

Junior may endure, at times, the unimaginable, but it's a statement to Sherman's talent how we still feel optimistic and hopeful for Junior’s future.