July 24, 2009
Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists and Other Matters Odd and Magical edited by Deborah Noyes
I was beginning to think that I really just don’t like young adult short stories collections at all. Of the last two that I have read, one I hated; the other I felt only lukewarm about, and that one (Gothic! Ten Tales of Terror, which was also edited by Deborah Noyes) had stories by some of my all time favorite authors! However, I have finally found a young adult collection where I actually enjoyed every story in it
In Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists and Other Matters Odd and Magical popular authors such as Vivian Vande Velde, David Almond, Margo Lanagan, Cynthia Leitich Smith and others explore the strange and varied spectrum of “freaks and marvels” that originally gained popularity through traveling circuses and carnivals (Noyes does address in the introduction how these exhibits have shifted from being popular to being seen as “cruel and exploitive”). There are stories that you would expect to be in a collection like this, ones of a Bearded Lady, a dwarf, a psychic and a swami, but there were also ones that delved a little deeper into the odd side of things. Cecil Castellucci tells a story about learning to keep alive a feisty family heirloom. Annette Curtis Klause melds together carnivals and Egyptian history in “The Mummy’s Daughter.”
While all of these stories were enjoyable, I think my favorite part was the inclusion in the collection of several comic style stories, most notably Matt Phelan’s story of a Jargo* act gone wrong.
This is a great collection for anyone with an interest in the culture of carnivals or who likes their stories a little odd and creepy.
*A Jargo act was one where two men dressed as either a horse or giraffe.
June 26, 2009
I Am Legend
I saw the Will Smith movie I Am Legend a while ago, and really liked it (which should come to absolutely no surprise to those who know of my fascination with creepy monsters that go bump in the night). Somehow though, I had never read the book. Then I discovered that one of my favorite comic writers, Steve Niles (who wrote many of the 30 Days of Night books), had done a graphic novel version of I Am Legend. Somehow I felt if I was going to read it, I should at least start with the original book, and I’m so glad that I did.
The movie tie-in version of the book is actually a collection of short stories by Richard Matheson (not sure if this the the case with other versions). It leads off with I Am Legend; after a plague decimates society, infecting the living and creating vampires, Robert Neville finds himself as quite possibly the last living human on earth. It was creepy, but ultimately just a really sad, kind of heartbreaking portrayal of a man faced with the utmost loneliness.
There were a couple of other stories that I were just the right amount of weird and creepy. There were a couple that I really liked. The Near Departed, had a tinge of dark humor when a mysterious client plans for a death. In From Shadowed Places a young man suffers the wrath of an angered witch doctor. And my favorite, the uber-creepy Prey, where the trapped spirit of a bloodthirsty hunter escapes from it’s prison. Definitely an enjoyable collection, I can’t wait to look for more books by Richard Matheson.
May 14, 2009
No Such Thing as the Real World: Stories About Growing Up and Getting a Life
I wanted to like this. I really did. I mean M.T. Anderson, An Na, K.L. Going, Beth Kephart, Chris Lynch and Jacqueline Woodson? That is some heavy talent in the teen fiction world. But these stories…most of them just fell completely flat for me.
That said, there were a few bright points. Chris Lynch’s story about a teen who learns some hard truths about his recently dead father when he takes over the family pawnshop made you wonder if it is better to know the truth or live with your perception of someone. Jacqueline Woodson’s story of a gay dancer questioning the meaning of family was interesting. For me, the strongest of the collection was “Survival” by K.L. Going, a story where a girl learns the hard way that you can’t always count on the people closest to you.
Overall, not really the best collection of stories. The coolest thing about the book is the contest that the editors are running. Teens between the ages of 14 and 19 are invited to submit a short story about a single, life changing event. The winner will have their story published in the paperback edition of the book. More info about that contest can be found on the HarperTeen website.