August 13, 2009
Earthgirl by Jennifer Cowan
Everyone should want to protect the environment and save the world, right?
That’s the outlook of budding activist Sabine “Bean” Solomon. While riding her bike, Sabine is hit with a leftover McDonald’s meal tossed from an SUV that is idling in the bike lane. After a slight altercation with the driver that ends up being posted on You Tube, Sabine begins to realize that there is something seriously wrong with the world, and maybe it’s time that she did something about it.
However, not everyone is willing to embrace Sabine’s newfound environmental and consumer consciousness. Her parents won’t buy organic food from the local co-op (where Sabine now works after having quit her job at the corporate hole that is The Gap). Her friends scoff at carrying resuable bags. Her sister even joins the Girls Intelligence Agency, a marketing group that gathers polls teens in order to find the next big consumer trend. Sabine finds herself frustrated as she slowly alienates everyone around her.
Until she meets Vray. Vray is smart, gorgeous and is completely dedicated to “the cause”. The seem perfect for each other, with Vray teaching and guiding Sabine about what it means to be an activist. But where is the line between being dedicated and being a radical? Does the end justify the means, so long as it benefits and draws attention to “the cause”? What kind of activist is Sabine?
This is a timely and eye opening book, focusing heavily on issues that are not often found in teen literature, making for a great read for anyone who wants to get involved in responsible living.
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
Sisters of the Sword by Maya Snow
What a great start to a new series! Sisters Kimi and Hana want nothing more to become Samurai warriors…something quite impossible in 1216 in feudal Japan. Lucky for them, their father, the Jito, or ruler of the province, teaches them basic fighting techniques, believing that women should be able to defend themselves in case of an attack. However, their training is brief, for girls (especially daughters of the Jitoare meant to practice tea ceremonies and calligraphy, not fighting with swords and daggers.
The girls’ world is forever changed though when their uncle commits the horrifying and treacherous act of slaughtering their father and two older brothers, forcing the girls to flee for their lives. Not knowing if their mother and younger brother escaped, they disguise themselves as peasant boys in order to take shelter at a dojo. Run by Master Goku, it is no only the same dojo where their older brothers had trained to become samurais, but where their cousin Ken-ichi is currently studying.
Will the girls be able to keep the secret of who they really are and avenge their father’s death? Or will Ken-ichi’s father track them down?
Perfect for middle school readers, Sisters of the Sword is just the first in the series, be sure to look for Chasing the Secret and Journey Through Fire
June 23, 2009
Zach’s Lie by Roland Smith
Jack Osbourne has always lived a normal, suburban life with his parents and sister. Until the night he is woken up in the middle of the night by men who threaten to kill him, his mother and his sister if they don’t do exactly what they say. That was the night that changed everything. The night his father was arrested for drug trafficking, forcing he, his mother and sister into the Witness Protection Program. The night he became Zach Granger.
The Grangers live in a tiny town in Nevada’s Ruby Mountain, where everyone knows everything about everybody. Zach and his sister “Wanda” have made new friends, and their mother is on her way to opening a bookstore right in the center of town. Things are finally starting to look up. Will Zach’s family be safe here in their new haven, or is it just a matter of time before the danger from their past catches up to them?
Zach’s Lie is a great suspense thriller, perfect for fans of Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series; I can’t wait to read the sequel, Jack’s Run.
June 23, 2009
The Fetch by Laura Whitcomb
Calder is a Fetch, an otherworldly escort who appears to people on death’s door. If a soul decides that it is ready to die, it is his job to use his key to open a door, through which lays the path to heaven. In general the living can not see him, and he is not to interfere with the soul’s decision. He knows that someday, he must choose a squire, a dying soul to whom he will offer his key, acceptance of which will apprentice them into a “life” as a Fetch. It has been over 400 years though, and Calder has yet to find the right soul. Until he sees her. A beautiful young woman, weeping for the dying soul of a baby boy. A woman that he is certain can sense his presence.
His overwhelming desire to meet this woman leads Calder to do the unthinkable. He convinces a dying soul to let him use his body, an action that creates havoc between the delicate balance of the real world and the afterlife. What Calder doesn’t realize is that the woman who fascinates him is Alexandra Romanov, the Empress of Russia, and that body he has taken belongs to Grigori Rasputin. What follows is a spiritual and epic story set in the midst of the Russian Revolution, where worlds dangerously begin to collide and overlap.
Overall, despite being a little slow in spots, I really enjoyed this book. Going into it, I didn’t know about the historical context of this story, with Whitcomb offering an explanation about the mystery which surrounds the Romanov family. Without this context, this would have just been another book about a supernatural being. I would definitely recommend this to teens who like the otherworldly books, but are looking for something with a little more depth.
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.
May 5, 2009
The Comet’s Curse by Dom Testa
Two hundred fifty one souls. None of whom is over sixteen years old. They are mankind’s final hope for survival.
The very existence of all mankind is at stake after the tail of the comet Bhaktul contaminates Earth’s atmosphere, infecting everyone over the age of eighteen. When he and his colleagues are unable to develop a cure, renowned scientist Dr. Zimmer proposes a radical plan: select and 251 of the world’s brightest, strongest and bravest teens and train them to undertake the dangerous mission of traveling through space to Eon, a new earth.
Although his plan is met with much resistance, Dr. Zimmer, along with his associates Dr. Bauer and Dr. Armstead, begin the creation of Galahad, a ship that will support the selected teens for during their five year journey. Everyone aboard will be led by The Council, Captain Triana Martell, and Roc, their detailed and life-like systems computer.
All appears to go according to Dr. Zimmer’s plan, when shortly after takeoff, a crew member must dragged to the Sick House, frantically screaming that he has spotted a stowaway. At first the Council assumes that Peter is space sick and simply imagining things, a sickness that is common after the initial takeoff. However, when crops are vandalized and the words, “This is a death ship” are scrawled across a wall, Triana knows that this wasn’t just a hallucination, and the entire mission may be at stake.
This was a great start to a new science fiction series, one that deals more with the human aspect of the mission rather than the futuristic details of the teen’s world. I look forward to reading more of Testa’s Galahad series.