Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson

Black Hole Sun / Won't You Come / And Wash Away the Rain

Soundgarden's dark lyrics were floating around my mind while I read this thrilling sci-fi adventure from Kevin Emerson.

The year is 2213, but no one's really counting anymore because the Earth is dead, swallowed by the sun as it goes supernova.

Earth's population has gone to Mars, but it's only a short stay because Mars isn't safe from the sun's wrath either.

Mars is just a place for the Earthlings to get their act together before they embark on a 150 year journey to a new home.


Liam was born on Mars, and the thought of leaving it behind is crushing, but he goes along with it because leaving is better than being melted to nothing. Liam's friend Phoebe is also disappointed about leaving, together they reminisce about their time together and get ready to board the last starliner to leave the red planet.

As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds

Ernie and his brother Genie are from Brooklyn so they've seen it all and then some and they aren't afraid of nothing. That is until their parents pack them off to a small town in Virginia one summer to stay with their grandparents. Rural Virginia is a lot different from the big city for a lot of reasons, chief among them being that for one, they live out near woods where all kinds of critters (and snakes) live.

Genie, is younger and he looks up to his older brother Ernie. Ernie is cool, always wears sunglasses and unfailingly sticks up for Genie, especially when other kids call him names like Geenie Weenie. They share a close brotherly bond and they need that bond more than ever since their parents are going through a bit of a rough patch-the summer trip to their grandparents' is meant to be a chance for their parents to work out some issues.


26875552.jpg (318×474)Everyone is scared of something. For a kid like Genie this is a coming-of-age moment in his life since he isn't used to seeing grown ups have such visceral reactions to things that scare them. Grandpa for his part, although he is blind does not hesitate to do things around the house, the fact of which astounds the boys.

Reynolds deftly intertwines various topics in this novel, among them the complicated nature of family relations and the dichotomy between city life and country life.

Being brave in most books for this age group involves kids finding the strength to do (or say) things. Reynolds inverts that dynamic and shows us that it's ok not to do things that scare us. Some read alikes to this book are Shelley Pearsall's The Seventh Most Important Thing, Andrew Clements' The Jacket and Daphne Benedis-Grab's Army Brats.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Teen Survey: Nathaniel


School's out for summer! A recent high school graduate filled out our GuysLitWire Survey. Here's what he had to say:

Name: Nathaniel

Age:
18

Grade:
12th (just graduated)

Books recently read for fun:
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Books recently read for class:
The Iliad
by Homer
Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West
Hamlet by William Shakespeare (It's always been my favorite Shakespeare play!)
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Books you read as a kid:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
by Eric Carle

Why you like to read:
I just do.

Favorite book genres/topics:
Dark thinky stuff and biographies.

Favorite books:
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Favorite playwrights and plays:
Shakespeare

Favorite type of music:
Classical

Anything else you want to say:
Hi!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

California Dreamin' by Pénélope Bagieu

All the leaves are brown
and the sky is grey
I've been for a walk
on a winter's day . . .


CALIFORNIA DREAMIN': Cass Elliot Before The Mamas & the Papas is a graphic novel by Pénélope Bagieu, who also wrote and drew Exquisite Corpse, featured in this post last year. The book was originally published in French, then translated into the English by Nanette McGuinness.

This graphic novel tells the story of Ellen Cohen, known by most people as Cass Elliot (a stage name based on a reversal of her initials), known by still more as "Mama Cass", from her childhood in Baltimore to her 24th birthday, shortly after signing a record contract as part of The Mamas & the Papas. There are no color spreads inside the book, but the colorful story telling and clear identification of characters by image make it easy to follow.

Nearly every chapter is from the perspective of a different person in Cass's life, from her sister to her parents to high school friends to fellow musicians. And it totally works in conveying the essence of her persona - her charm and wit, her social consciousness, her insecurities, her desire for love - with its spare telling of incidents and chapters in Cass Elliot's life.

It's an honest portrayal, complete with drug use and language, and is a page-turner in the best sense. While many of the pages include frames and boxes for images, there is an interesting fluidity to Bagieu's style, as in the chapter entitled "Bess", which is named for her mother. While Bess is framed throughout, she finds Cass in the basement with Michelle and John Phillips and Denny Doherty, completely tripping on acid. Those pages are rather free-form (except for any appearance by Bess).



The book does not cover Cass's success with The Mamas & the Papas, or her later solo career, but it paints a clear picture of her childhood and early development. A truly clever biography.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Dan vs. Nature by Don Calame

Dan vs. Nature by Don Calame had me on page 2 with “uriniferous homunculi.” The young adult novel solidified its hold on page 190 with its description of a certain bodily function sounding like “a didgeridoo played into a pot of loose mashed potatoes.” And my affection for this hilarious tale was cemented on page 261 with a reference to Blood Meridian. Cormac McCarthy references AND virtuoso uses of figurative language to describe the sight, smell, and sound of human excretion? This is the book for me.

If you laughed at any or all of those examples, Dan vs. Nature is the book for you as well, a tour de force mash-up of juvenile humor and SAT vocabulary in the season of Survivor that will never air. The novel starts tamely enough: Teenage nebbishes Dan and Charlie are accosted by what Charlie describes as the aforementioned “homunculi.” Dan’s life only gets worse when his mother reveals that she is engaged to manly man Hank, who Dan can only see as the latest in a series of bad choices his mother has made since his birth father ran off years ago. And Dan’s life seems to bottom out when his well-meaning mother reveals that Dan’s birthday present is a male-bonding survival wilderness trip with Hank.

Charlie, however, has the brilliant/deranged idea to use the trip to torment Hank and convince him to abandon the relationship with Dan’s mother. I do not want to spoil the particulars, but the plans involve hacking a “practice baby” from Dan’s high school and turning it into a liquid-spewing demon, a copious amount of doe urine, and doctoring various substances so Dan spends a lot of time with his “sluices” opened at both ends.

Zany and gloriously debauched, the deterioration of the wilderness trip in Dan vs. Nature more than compensates for the general predictability of the overall plot resolution. It’s not so much the fluidity of the plot as the fluids in the plot that will keep you reading. The introduction of less-than manic pixie dream girl Penelope as a potential love/lust interest for both Charlie and Dan also makes for a satisfying subplot. And how can you deny a book that begins with the main character being punched in the ass, continues with him punching himself in the junk, and ends with him getting punched in the face not once but twice? Dan vs. Nature pulls no punches in its gleeful depiction of man and nature at their most elemental.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Sign of the Beaver

It's not perfect. But The Sign of the Beaver is a good story. Good enough to be named a Newbery Honor Book, as a matter of fact.

It tells of thirteen-year-old Matt, who is left to guard the new home they built in the wilderness of Maine, when his father heads off to bring the rest of the family from their old house in Quincy, Massachusetts. He loses his hunting rifle to a thief, and worries that he may starve. But some locals Indians help him in exchange for Matt teaching the young Attean to read.

"An uncomfortable doubt had long been troubling Matt. Now, before Attean went away, he had to know. 'This land,' he said slowly, 'this place where my father built his cabin. Did it belong to your grandfather? Did he own it once?'

'How one man own ground?' Attean questioned.

'Well, my father owns it now. He bought it.'

'I not understand.' Attean scowled. 'How can man own land? Land same as air. Land for all people to live on. For beaver and deer. Does deer own land?'

How could you explain, Matt wondered, to someone who did not want to understand? Somewhere in the back of his mind there was a sudden suspicion that Attean was making sense and he was not. It was better not to talk about it. Instead he asked, 'Where will you go?'

'My grandfather say much forest where sun go down. White man not come so far.'

To the west. Matt had heard his father talk about the west. There was good land there for the taking. Some of their neighbors in Quincy had chosen to go west instead of buying land in Maine. How could he tell Attean that there would be white men there too?"

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

Everyone has a history. For Petula and her Youth Art Therapy (YART) classmates, their histories pretty much bite. How does one move past a marred past, either a singular event or a series of bad decisions that result in a complete loss of faith in an individual? Everyone makes mistakes, some are just bigger and harder to forgive than others.

Rachel and Petula were great friends, best friends even. They loved to share everything with one another, until that terrible day. Of the many issues Petula suffers from,  many have developed since that terrible day, most deal with extreme (irrational) safety. As in how likely one is to be struck by piano falling from the 5th floor of an apartment building while walking down the street,  or making sure one wears the appropriate clothing for cold weather so as not to catch pneumonia.

Jacob, a.k.a. the bionic man, has his own past. As a transfer student, not everyone knows where he has been or what he has done, but he does. It haunts him, causing him to leave behind huge portions of what makes Jacob "Jacob."

As the classmates work together - at first under serious duress - they start to see each other as more than just a summation of mistakes, but as truly whole people.

Nielsen gives us some really fantastic characters in this book, they all have their hangups, bang-ups, and screwups, but they are each touching in their own way. I think many readers of Jandy Nelson, John Green and Rainbow Rowell will enjoy this funny and heartfelt novel.

Friday, June 2, 2017

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

I'm reviewing this book for Locus Magazine right now, so I can't say much but you need to get In Other Lands on your radar now. It's for YA readers (the protagonist ages from 13 - 17 in the course of the book) and for all that it is somewhat familiar (teen from our world at school in a magical land) it's unlike any fantasy I have read in a very long time. It's due out in August from Small Beer Press. More from me on it after the review runs, but here's the publisher's description:

The Borderlands aren’t like anywhere else. Don’t try to smuggle a phone or any other piece of technology over the wall that marks the Border — unless you enjoy a fireworks display in your backpack. (Ballpoint pens are okay.) There are elves, harpies, and — best of all as far as Elliot is concerned — mermaids.
What’s your name?”
“Serene.”
“Serena?” Elliot asked.
“Serene,” said Serene. “My full name is Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle.”
Elliot’s mouth fell open. “That is badass."
Elliot? Who’s Elliot? Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands.
It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likeable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world.
“The beauty of men is a sweet soft thing that passes all too soon, like a bird across the sky.”
In Other Lands is the exhilarating new book from beloved and bestselling author Sarah Rees Brennan. It’s a novel about surviving four years in the most unusual of schools, about friendship, falling in love, diplomacy, and finding your own place in the world — even if it means giving up your phone.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Secret Lives by Berthe Amoss & Girl in Reverse by Barbara Stuber

There are few topics more universal than family secrets. Every family has them, ranging from the tragic and devastating to pedestrian and silly. We cover up family secrets because we are often taught we must do so, but most of us can not look away from them or deny an interest to know more about how those secrets came to be. (The immortal heroine of a certain novel wasn’t called “Harriet the Spy” for nothing.)

Traditionally, literary teen detectives find their earliest genesis close to home, cracking open the mysteries of family and friends before embarking on those in the wider world. These stories are often relatable on a level that far flung adventures and dystopian dramas struggle to achieve. After all, while we all might love the idea of saving the world, ferreting out the lies that lurk around our own kitchen tables is something far more achievable.

The titles Secret Lives by Berthe Amoss and Girl in Reverse by Barbara Stuber center on questions surrounding the life and loss of parents, especially mothers. In these historical novels, the protagonists suffer from feelings of abandonment and when tantalizing clues about their mothers are discovered they each embark on the hunt for more information. 

By placing their characters far from the era of computers and cellphones, the authors allow their narratives to unfold slowly and carefully. With their climbs into attics and visits to cemeteries, Secret Lives and Girl in Reverse mimic the classic girl detective plots but there are no Scooby Gang moments of catching a nefarious villain. These books are all about finding answers to very personal questions and the delicate balance the protagonists must consider as they pursue their own pasts.

Girl in Reverse is the story of Lily Firestone, who was left at an orphanage by her mother when she was just a toddler. Now sixteen, she is the Asian daughter of adoptive Caucasian parents in 1951 Kansas. With the country immersed in the Korean War, Lily is frequently subjected to the cruelties of racism by her classmates and though dearly loved by her family, she is terribly unhappy. Everything changes when her younger brother Ralph finds a small box in the attic that came with her from the orphanage and includes a collection of Asian artifacts. Looking for information about the objects, Lily visits the local museum with its Asian exhibit, meets some of the archaeologists involved and eventually discovers what her birth mother had to hide and why. Surprisingly, Lily finds herself confronting someone she never expected and learns things that challenge her entire identity.

The Firestone family is unaware of Lily’s past and more importantly, have a great deal invested in leaving it alone. Her adoptive parents are living their post-war 1950s ideal of peace and prosperity and are steadfastly determined not to acknowledge any conflicts that Lily’s ethnicity might cause. They care deeply for their daughter, but Stuber does a fine job of showing how their love is not enough to change what people think about her and denying her difficulties serves only to exaggerate them. Lily is suffering and her family history is what she needs to uncover so she can feel secure. In her case, the questions are beyond her parents’ comprehension and thus all of her detective work must be conducted in secret, albeit with the delightful assistance of her brother, who grasps what their parents can not.

In Secret Lives, an out-of-print rerelease in the Lizzie Skurnick Books series, twelve-year-old Addie lives with her older unmarried aunts in 1930s New Orleans. Cared for by them since her parents were killed in a Caribbean hurricane, Addie is chafing at life in the genteel household and desperate to retain her fading memories of her mother. With the help of a new friend, who eagerly embraces the mystery, Addie finds her own puzzling clue in the attic, (proving it’s an old trope but a good one), and starts asking questions. In her case though, the truth is revealed more by listening and noticing—by gauging the reactions of others when her mother’s name comes up. Step-by-step Addie moves from one family member and friend to the next, pressing each for a bit more information until the final picture, the true picture, of her mother is revealed. 

It is clear early on that Addie’s relatives know all the answers; it just has not occurred to them that she would ever want to know more than the entirely acceptable story they crafted about her parents. Amoss shows that assumptions about “what is best for the child” can often go awry and rarely hold up to the impertinence of a truly determined miniature Nancy Drew. This basic premise of adults exerting fruitless control over a situation makes Secret Lives a more traditionally constructed but no less effective title.

By the final pages of these two novels, each of the protagonists learns something about themselves and, more importantly, the people they love. These are predictable endings perhaps, in that the mysteries are solved and relationships affected for the better, but that does nothing to reduce their enjoyment. Collectively, we all love a good mystery and everyone of us has a relative who seems to be hiding something. Secret Lives and Girl in Reverse are proof positive that readers need not look far and wide for drama; all too often it is right beyond their bedroom doors.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

Robin Wasserman's The Waking Dark opens with bloody murder and doesn't slow down for one minute from then. (If you read Black and Wasserman back-to-back, you might want to have a romantic comedy on standby to mellow out to afterward.) It's intense, compelling, and always a coming-of-age story first and a "scary, we might all die, hold on to your hats" suspense novel second. It has been compared in various places to the great works of Stephen King, and I agree that the influence is there, although The Waking Dark ends miles better than It. This is one part Stand by Me, one part Red Dawn (original not remake), and one part every single bad thing you've ever thought about the military industrial complex (see Super 8 for more on this). Mostly though it is just a blazingly good story and the sort of page-turner that will keep you up all night for sure.

In the opening pages five teens are directly involved in five separate gruesome murders (either as witnesses or participants) in the quiet town of Oleander, Kansas. In the days that follow the shell-shocked population searches for answers to the crimes, all of which were perpetrated by otherwise perfectly decent residents. As time goes by the teens struggle with their experiences while everyone else tries to dismiss the "Killing Day" as an aberration, wrapping themselves up in religion or denial and doing their level best to resume the rhythm of seasonal celebrations that dictated Oleander's calendar for decades. Then one year later a tornado rips through town, as they do in the Midwest, and all of the Oleander's secrets are blown apart. A quarantine follows, borders are erected, soldiers swarm the perimeter and the five protagonists must navigate a strange new world where societal rules seem to be slipping away in a rush for power, bloody vengeance and paranoia. This is Lord of the Flies times a million and it doesn't slow down until the last screaming page.

The plot of The Waking Dark certainly keeps readers riveted but where Wasserman truly excels is also King's strong point -- the characters. Daniel, West, Jule, Ellie and Cass are complex, thoughtful and extremely compelling. They introduce questions of God and fate, good and evil, and bravery and cowardice throughout the narrative and refuse to be pigeonholed into easy categories. All of them are strong and all of them are weak; they make choices both admirable and regretful and their long soul searching journeys, which encompass the entire book, are the stuff of epics. A high school hallway lives in The Waking Dark, and everyone you know passes through its pages, meeting challenges that none could have prepared for. Few will survive intact.

The most surprising part of The Waking Dark, though, is just how much fun it is to read. This story takes you away, it steals your breath, it shocks and amazes. Oleander is not Derry, Maine, but damn, it sure took me back.

This review was previously published in my YA column at Bookslut.com

Friday, May 19, 2017

Teen Survey: Tosh

As the school year winds down, I took the opportunity to pass the GuysLitWire Teen Survey to one of my regular customers, an avid reader and D&D enthusiast.

Name: Tosh

Age:
15

Grade:
10th

Books recently read for fun:

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
- These are the first two books in The Kingkiller Chronicle.

Dissolution by Richard Lee Byers
Insurrection by Thomas M. Reid
- These are the first two books in the War of the Spider Queen series, based on Dungeons & Dragons, set in the Forgotten Realms.

 - and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Books recently read for class:
1984
by George Orwell
A collection of Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Books you want to read: 
More Shakespeare
More Sherlock
Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson


Books you read as a kid:

Harry Potter series
Percy Jackson series

Why you like to read:
Because it takes me to another world.

Favorite book genres/topics:
Fantasy

Favorite authors:
J.R.R. Tolkien
J.K. Rowling

Favorite playwrights and plays:
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare


Favorite movies:

Arrival

All of the Marvel movies

Favorite musicians:
Fall Out Boy

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon


Subhi was born in an Australian detention centre and knows nothing but fences and guards and hunger.
 
A refugee, Subhi lives with his sister Queenie and their mother, who grows more and more despondent as the days go on.

Subhi finds refuge in his friend Eli, who runs a smuggling operation under the guards' noses. He also likes Harvey, the only guard, or "Jacket" as they are called, that treats the people in the detention centre anything close to human.

Subhi's only hope is that his father will someday return.
One night, his life changes when he's visited from someone on the other side of the fence. Her name is Jimmie and she asks Subhi to read her stories, stories that were written by her mother who has since passed away.

Jimmie's father works double shifts, her older brother Jonah is tasked with taking care of her but he's a teenager and isn't ready to be a parent.

The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan

Image result for the bombs that broughtCurrent events made this book a more timely read for me and even though this novel doesn't delve deeply into the after effects of large scale weapons, there is still enough detail to enable the reader to empathize with the characters and understand the reasoning behind some of the decisions they make.

The overall theme of the book is one of despair, hopelessness and feeling powerless in the face of big government apparatus. The main character is a 14 year old called Charlie Law whose mom is sick and badly needs medicine. All goods are in short supply including medicine so after a chance encounter with a shadowy figure Charlie gains access to a never-ending supply of medicine, no questions asked. This seems fortuitous but perhaps this may not be the case.

 The restrictions are in place because Charlie lives in a place called Little Town which is under siege from nearby Old Country. The Old Country regime is harsh and soldiers from their country patrol the Little Town streets and sometimes harass Little Townites. In order to survive Charlie's parents has painstakingly taught him a series of rules that are essential for him to survive. His world is altered even further when one day he meets a fellow teen from Old Country whose family has had to flee their home. Will Charlie be able to get along with Pav?  Will his government be able to overthrow their oppressors?

Some read alikes to this work are The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne, The Old Country by Mordecai Gerstein and Eye of the Wolf by Daniel Pennac. Conflict in Conaghan's novels echoes many real life conflicts past and present and I can see this book being used in high school classrooms to broach many difficult subjects.






Friday, May 12, 2017

The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education

"It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry... It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty." Albert Einstein


Grace Llewellyn's The Teenage Liberation Handbook is among the very best books for potential homeschoolers (or unschoolers), along with John Taylor Gatto's Dumbing Us Down.

Maybe you believe you aren't ready for freedom?

On some level, no one ever is; it's not a matter of age. People of all ages make mistakes with their freedom -- becoming involved with destructive friends, choosing college majors they're not deeply interested in, buying houses with rotten foundations, clearcutting forests, breaking good marriages for dumb reasons... Sure, teenagers make mistakes. So do adults, and it seems to me adults have a harder time admitting and fixing theirs... The only alternative to making mistakes is for someone to make all your decisions for you, in which case you will make their mistakes instead of your own. Obviously, that's not a life of integrity. Might as well start living, rather than merely obeying, before the age of eighteen...

Schools play a nasty trick on all of us. They make "learning" so unpleasant and frightening that they scare many people away from countless pleasures: evenings browsing in libraries, taking an edible plants walk at the nature center, maybe even working trigonometry problems for the hard beauty and challenge of it... By calling school "learning," schools make learning sound like an excruciatingly boring way to waste a nice afternoon. That's low.


It is written for the teen more than for the parent, but parents would do well to read it, too:

Homeschooling parents of teenagers are rarely teachers, in the school sense of the word, and this book never suggests that you forsake your own career or interests in order to learn calculus (etc.) fast enough to "teach" it. Healthy kids can teach themselves what they need to know, through books, various people, thinking, and other means (A freshly unschooled person may at first be a lousy learner; like cigarettes, school-style passivity may be a slow habit to kick)...

If you have helped with or supervised your children's homework, or stayed in close touch with their teachers, homeschooling need not drain your energy any more than that.


Nineteenth-century "educational" methods do not work very well. We do better when we are free to learn what we want, when we want. The Teenage Liberation Handbook rocks.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

SPILL ZONE by Scott Westerfeld

Big thanks to First Second for the review copy of Scott Westerfeld's first graphic novel. The graphic novel was just released last week, but prior to that, it was serialized online at The Spill Zone. If you're a fan of Westerfeld's work (and seriously, if you aren't, it's likely because you haven't read him yet), this will be right up your alley.

It features:

A female lead with a motorcycle and a camera
An environmental disaster
An exploration of what we do with abandoned or ruined spaces
An exploration of family relationships (Addison, the lead, has custody of her younger sister, rendered mute by the disaster)

Here is part of what Westerfeld said about how this graphic novel came to be:

In 2004, a Ukrainian photojournalist named Elena Filatova (aka KiddofSpeed) blogged an account of her illicit motorcycle journeys through the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the area blighted by history’s worst nuclear accident. Her photos and writing were elegiac and apocalyptic, evoking the otherworldliness of the forsaken city of Pripyat. But once the posts went viral, certain discrepancies were noted, and Filatova admitted that her accounts were “more poetry than reality.”

In short, she might have taken a tour bus. You see, it’s pretty easy to get into the Exclusion Zone these days.

But the poetic version stuck with me—a woman on a motorcycle, a camera, an empty and dangerous world.

I’ve always been a sucker for tales about exploring broken, abandoned terrain. As a kid I was an “urban explorer,” though we didn’t have that term back then. I spelunked the buildings at my upstate New York college, and I’ve explored abandoned sites in and around NYC since. There’s nothing quite like the silent loneliness of a place that has been abandoned, restricted, and left to ruin. In these spaces, the usual rules don’t apply. It feels as if the laws of physics don’t either.

So what if they really were a slice of another world?

That’s what Spill Zone is about. The ways that disasters, canny or uncanny, change the spaces that they take place in. And the ways that we survivors become explorers of those ruined spaces, picking them apart with memories, stories, and art.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Atlas Obscura by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton



Looking for information about Grand Canyon National Park? The Smithsonian Museums? Perhaps the Great Wall of China, or maybe the Eiffel Tower? Then Atlas Obscura is not the travel guide for you. Looking for information on where to go to partake in local delicacies such as eggs boiled in the urine of young boys? Interested in the distinction between the largest ball of twine collected by one person and the largest ball collected by more than one person?

Then you’ve come to exactly the right book.

Written by three writers/editors of the Atlas Obscura website (Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton), Atlas Obscura the book is a massive compendium of weird, remote, and always interesting geographical spots and historical remembrances. If you enjoy the website, you will certainly enjoy this “Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders.” This is not a book for tourists, and this is not a book for the meek. This is a book for the emboldened, for those who want to see the world’s hidden places.

Structured as a geographical tour through the continents, Atlas Obscura is filled with examples of natural wonders: caves, lakes, deserts, and the like. But more interesting to me, likely because they are also more unknown to me, are the human-made wonders. Throughout the book's survey of the various continents are examples of what one person can accomplish through sheer will. Castles, pyramids, shrines—all built by individuals on their own over a lifetime. And of course there are also the oddities: the ice cream parlor in Venezuela that serves over 900 flavors, including Ham + Cheese and Sardines and Brandy; devices used to give tobacco smoke enemas in the 18th and 19th centuries; books bound in the skin of their authors; the "body farm" in Tennessee, where scientists study decomposition; an anechoic chamber in Minneapolis, where the absence of sound freaks out visitors; the one-mile square desert near the Arctic Circle ringed by snow-topped mountains.

Saturday was Obscura Day 2017 on atlasobscura.com, and this book will make you want to take part in the next one. We often forget the vast weirdness of the world, as well as the isolation that still exists in some places. And though the increasing "stripmallification" of travel pushes people to the same spots, pushes people toward comfort rather than curiosity, Atlas Obscura makes childhood wonder return to jaded adult minds.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Hold on tight, I'm about to recommend a vampire novel. (I am just as shocked by this as you are.) In my defense, this is a decidedly complex and bloodthirsty vampire novel in which there is only a bit of romance and no one sparkles and and no one falls in love with someone who might remotely be considered "the girl who must save the world." In a word, Holly Black's Coldest Girl in Coldtown is fabulous and it simply must be read to be believed.

In Black's America, the vampire infection has been identified and those who become ill are quarantined, along with full-blown vampires in "coldtowns." When initially bitten but before feeding, victims become physically cold thus confirming their infection. Teenager Tana finds herself in the middle of a vampire mess when waking up after a party that apparently took a horrifying turn while she was passed out. Facing certain death along with an old boyfriend and a mysterious but helpful stranger, she gets them out alive and finds herself on the kind of road trip that Kerouac needed a lot more drugs to dream up. Their destination is Coldtown in the former Springfield, Massachusetts. Along the way, Tana must tease out the stranger's story, keep her friend from losing his humanity, freak out over her own potential vampire-ness and deal with two of the most clueless teenage hitchhiker-bloggers in the history of the world. Winning means getting herself locked behind the gates where the most fabulous vampire party in the country runs live every night on the Internet. If only the whole thing wasn't so terrifying, it might just be fun.

But -- and here is where Black truly shines -- every little bit of Coldest Girl in Coldtown is exceedingly terrifying. Between moments of sarcastic wit, readers discover Tana's desperate backstory, the equally troubling motivations of her companions and the desperate lives of those who dwell in Coldtown. Everyone has his or her own twisted story in this walled city and survival at its ugliest is the only thing that matters. Black strips all the glittery appeal from vampire life while making vamps themselves far more human then we have become accustomed to. Assholes in life are assholes in death and Coldtown is full of a lot of hungry, angry, confused, lost, royally screwed-up assholes. What readers won't expect is the craven nature of the humans who end up there as well and how the most base aspects of their natures are revealed to Tana as she tries to stay sane, stay alive, and dodge that damn infection.

Every character in Coldest Girl in Coldtown is rich and complicated. This is a complex world the author has created and she relies on everyone within it to keep the narrative the irresistible adventure it is. I thought the vampire novel was dead, or at least on life support, but Black has done nothing short of a miracle here; she has made me care about fangs again. Darkly romantic in the manner of the oldest tales, mysterious and bloody and banked with shocking twists and turns, Coldest Girl in Coldtown is all of October's promise come to life. Somewhere, Anne Rice is chuckling with glee as finally the real vampire is back.

This review was previously published in my YA column at Bookslut.com

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Hounded by Kevin Hearne

Hounded is the first in the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. I loved all 9 books and a few novellas as well in this series.
Atticus O'Sullivan owns a small shop in Tempe Arizona selling books and herbs to the locals. He looks like a 21 yea-old Arizona State University student, but really he is a 2100 year-old Druid hiding out from his arch enemy Aenghus Og, a member of the Tuatha De Danann or the Celtic God pantheon. Hiding out in Arizona works pretty well mostly because there aren't many Gods from any of the world's pantheon's (all of which exist) around, which is pretty handy.

Atticus is magically bound to his trusty Irish wolfhound Oberon so they can speak to each other in their minds. I find this to be particularly entertaining. Oberon is an amazing companion, able to help Atticus when he is in a tight spot or to provide some comic relief in otherwise tense situations. Thanks to Immortali-Tea, Atticus and Oberon enjoy life staying the same age for as long as they wish while fending off attacks from whatever minions Aenghus sends against them. It helps when you get to wield Fragarach, a magical sword that can cut through any armor.

I personally think of this series as Percy Jackson for older teens and adults. It has it all, all the Gods from the Celts, the Norse, Hindus, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Allah, Coyote, Christ and the Virgin Mary to the members of the magical world including the Fae, vampires, werewolves, witches, goblins, sprites, dryads, and the Minotaur. It's all real - though Atticus makes sure to point out that no one thinks Thor is cool like he is in the Marvel movies, not even close!


Monday, May 1, 2017

Rebels by Brian Wood

Let's talk about the American Revolution, shall we?

At some point in elementary school, every American learns all about Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty and the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre and the Minutemen and George Washington and Valley Forge and Betsy Ross (who did not exist) and Bunker Hill (which was really a battle fought on Breed's Hill) and the Crossing of the Potomac and, well, I could go on and on and on.

(If you are of a certain age you learned a lot of this by watching the movie Johnny Tremain which I think I saw a million times, or at least it felt like I did.)

Brian Wood wanted to explore the notion of just what being a patriot meant during the revolutionary war period. But he didn't want to go with the big names like Washington and Franklin, he wanted to know what it was for like the men and women on the ground. So, Wood created a limited comic book series which is now collected in a trade called Rebels, and it is incredible.

Seriously - best thing I've ever read on the American Revolution.

In the opening series Wood tells the story of "A Well-Regulated Militia" which focuses on the hard choices of one young farmer who starts out defending his New Hampshire home against the British and then joins the larger effort under Washington. Ethan Allen plays a big part here and the Green Mountain Boys (who you may not have learned about). The story is about how not obvious (or easy) it was for the men who chose to leave their homes. We always think of America as one nation — we might be regionally focused but we are one country. Back in the 1770s that was not the case at all so fighting for another colony was a very big deal. Wood brings that choice to life in the this series in a way that I have not seen elsewhere.

There are also stories about Native Americans and how their wars against each other found them fighting on the opposing sides of the French and British during the French & Indian War (the lead-up to the Revolution), there is a story about a fearless young radical in Boston, about a very unfortunate British soldier (conscripted, confused and stuck) and a very (really far too short) piece about a former slave who sides with the British against the Americans in exchange for freedom.

My favorite story though is the one that rips apart the Molly Pitcher myth: "Goodwife, Follower, Patriot, Republican". This story about a camp follower, who assists her husband and then, in the heat of battle, takes his place when he falls to keep the cannons firing, seems like a dramatization of the Molly Pitcher legend. But then it takes a dramatic turn when she pursues a pension years after the war. The way this woman — this hero of the revolution — is treated by a bunch of smug men is positively infuriating. It sheds significant light on the work women did in combat even before this nation was a nation however, and is a comic that everyone should read.

I love Rebels. This is exactly the kind of writing that we need more of to get people excited about learning American history. All of the art is outstanding: realistic, intense and often very poignant. Rebels shows what comics can do with a subject that seemed to be fresh out of new ideas. Thanks, Brian Wood—this book is outstanding.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Raqqa Diaries: Escape From "Islamic State"

The news about Syria, especially since the US recently sent a bunch of bombs in its direction, can be overwhelming but it's important, really important and as Americans and humans and citizens of this world, we need to be doing what we can to educate ourselves on the Syrian Civil War. A good place to start, especially if you are intimidated by reading about foreign affairs, is The Raqqa Diaries: Escape From "Islamic State" by Samer. 

First - Samer is a pseudonym, to protect the author who was forced to leave his country after being targeted by the Islamic State (referred to in the book as "Daesh" - as it is known in much of the Middle East). He is 24 years old, a former college student and a member of the resistance who took to the streets against the authoritarian control of President Bashar al-Asaad and then also became targeted by Daesh after they took control of his city.

Framed as a series of diary entries and illustrated by Scott Coello, The Raqqa Diaries takes readers through the chaos of Samer's life as he reels from the heady days of demanding governmental reforms in the streets to the invasion by Daesh, air strikes by Russian jets and the subsequent involvement of multiple other groups in the war, all with agendas of their own.

Here's the first thing you learn while reading this book: Syria is complicated and anyone who suggests it isn't is a liar. In some ways, Samer's story is very straightforward. He writes about people being dragged away by al-Asaad and tortured, including his own father, for speaking about about government corruption. He writes about his friends who are targeted by Daesh for speaking out against their corruption and getting publicly murdered in executions that everyone is required to attend. He writes about getting arrested himself. He writes about getting tortured. He writes about his father being killed in an airstrike. He writes about longing for college and work and the girl he loved, who was forced to marry a Daesh fighter in order to save her own brother's life.

He writes, in just over 100 pages, about the end of his world. And then he writes about saying goodbye to his family and running for his life. The very least we can do is read his story. Really - the very very least we can do.

Here is Samer on the fight to get his father out of one of al-Asaad's prison before the war started:

No one should ever criticise a government official for stealing from his country, he said. After all, he continued, such a person might need to use public money to build a palace for himself to 'make the country look more civilised.' Or maybe he would go on to be really successful in business and become one of the country's top businessmen and wealth creators. And that was why officials should be allowed to do what they wanted.

Let's keep that in mind, shall we?

Later, he writes about the Hama massacre:

The Hama massacre of 1982 taught our people a valuable lesson. Under the command of the country's president, Hafez al-Assad [current president's father], the regime ended up killing more than 35,000 civilians in the heart of Syria, yet there were no repercussions. No journalists covered the atrocities, so people didn't know they had happened. 

We remember this. That's why we make sure that anything that happens in this war is documented and published outline through social media outlets.

Pay attention to Syria; people are literally risking their lives for our attention. And check out The Raqqa Diaries; it's a fast, compelling, unforgettable read and well worth your time.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Accelerati Trilogy Book One - Tesla's Attic by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elman

As the literary site Bookslut is no longer active, I'm going to cross post some of my older reviews from my YA column there so readers can rediscover some of these books. I last reviewed for Bookslut in 2014. 

Tesla's Attic by Neal Shusterman and Eric Elman is billed as a middle-grade title, but I think it actually works best for teens. The only thing it is missing from standard YA fare is romance and frankly, sometimes teen readers don't want romance in their mystery-adventures. For those interested in what strange things could be lurking in an inherited house and how they tie into a potential "Men In Black" conspiracy, then, Tesla's Attic fits the bill. Make the heroes a smart and fearless group of Super 8 level teens who are not superpowered, not magical and not on the cusp of finding some mystical object that will make them superpowered or magical, and you have a great start to what is billed as the Accelerati Trilogy.

Fourteen-year-old Nick, his younger brother and father have moved into his great aunt's house large rambling Victorian house, which was left to them in her will. Still reeling from the recent death of his mother in a fire, Nick is struggling to hold his family together as they make their way in a new town, new school, and new family reality. Cleaning out the attic for a garage sale seems like a good idea, as Aunt Greta was knee-deep in a lot of who looks like junk. Unfortunately there are some bizarre side effects to the seemingly innocuous toasters, vacuums, tape recorders, and other items that make their way into the community at the surprisingly successful sale. After some strange occurrences at home, Nick realizes he has to get all the stuff back and enlists the help of some classmates who have been freaked out by their purchases. In the meantime, the group tries to figure out just how these things got to be so powerful and who might have built them.

Tesla fans will already know that there are plenty of connections between the inventor and Colorado, so the idea that he might have stashed a few things in an old friend's house for safekeeping is not beyond the realm of possibility. Just what the inventor was up to with all this stuff is another thing however, and when a group of deadly physicists appears who really wants the stuff, (and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it), then the stakes increase exponentially. It's one thing to save a neighbor from a wild toaster but quite another to face down folks who are as likely to kill you as negotiate. Nick has to get a grip on what he has unwittingly loosed on the town and also be mindful of his family, who don't know what's going on and are facing their own demons as well.

The chemistry between Nick and his friends, Mitch, Caitlin, and Vincent, is really fantastic. They are a complicated group, not all necessarily likable, and hiding their own secrets as most of us do. They come together first because of circumstance -- each has one of the attic objects -- but slowly, as they work on solving the mystery, they become friends. It's a lot of fun to see them form a team and the way Shusterman and Elfman have written them, as teenage "everymen," readers will easily be able to project themselves into the story. Tesla's Attic was a very fun read for me, one of the more engaging and surprising titles for teens I've come across in a while.

Edison's Alley and Hawking's Hallway round out the trilogy!

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Reading Without Walls Challenge


Image courtesy of Macmillian/First Second Books
As described by Macmillian, Reading Without Walls is a month-long, nation-wide program to promote diversity in reading, inspired by National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Gene Luen Yang and his ambassadorial platform. Thousands of schools, libraries, bookstores, and comics stores are joining in - and so can you! It's easy to take the Reading Without Walls challenge - simply find something new and different to read, and let books open up the world around you.

1) Read a book with a character who doesn't look like you or live like you
2) Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about
3) Read a book in a format you don’t normally read for fun – an audio book, a graphic novel, a book in verse, an audio book

What are you waiting for? Go find a book that fits each category, or whichever challenge you like the best - or find one nifty book that fits all three!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

25191266.jpg (318×452)Magic, young apprentice...evil wizard...seems pretty straightforward right?  Well not so much. Set in a coastal Maine town, Sherman's novel mixes realistic fiction with fantasy in just the right amount to enthrall both lovers of fantasy as well as realistic fiction in equal measure.

Nick is a tough cookie. he has to be, he lives with a bully older cousin and an uncle who doesn't know how to spare the rod. Could Nick help his case by not getting into trouble at school so much? Sure. Nick doesn't learn his lesson though so he seizes his chance one bitterly cold night and runs away and ends up in a strange house with an even stranger old dude who just so happens to be a wizard-an evil wizard if you believe the denizens of Smallbone Cove.

Before long Nick is learning a thing or three about magic and beginning to tolerate life with Smallbone, his quick temper and his menagerie of animals. Journeys to Smallbone Cove are exciting too and You can't escape your past though and Nick finds he has big choices to make when his former life catches up to him.

This is a slightly irreverent read as you may expect. Insults and barbs fly back and forth regularly so I would recommend it for ages 9+ simply because I think most kids at that age have enough sense to know not to go around repeating the stuff they read in books. Some read alikes are Rick Riordan's Magnus Chase series, Kelly Barnhill's The Girl Who Drank the Moon and Holly Webb's Rose.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Knights of the Borrowed Dark by Dave Rudden

Denizen Hardwick's having a tough week.

First, he's stuck in Crosscaper orphanage. That's not a huge deal because he's been there his whole life. He has no memory of his father. His only memory of his mother is that she smelled like strawberries and used to sing to her.

Then, on his thirteenth birthday, everything changes. Denizen gets a visitor, a mysterious man that tells him he's going to take him to see his long lost aunt.

On the way to see his aunt, something weird happens. The air becomes electric and his stomach feels queasy. The driver pulls the car over and steps out.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Woods Runner

I review Gary Paulsen books here quite a bit. That's because he always delivers. I've never read a book of his I did not like. Woods Runner is historical fiction.
It takes place at the start of the American Revolution - the War for Independence. Thirteen-year-old Samuel is out hunting when he notices a lot of smoke rising. He runs home to find it burned to the ground, with no sign of his parents. But he notices tracks indicating the British soldiers have taken his folks with them, so he sets out to track them down. I don't want to tell you the whole story, but Paulsen does something different in this book: Scattered throughout the novel are short explanations of sides that fought during the war, the weapons, the terrible state of medical knowledge at the time, "Frontier Life," and the difference between the Continental (regular) Army, the volunteer militia, and the Rangers (small groups of guerrilla fighters), plus other interesting facts from that period.

The firearm issued to the British army was called the Brown Bess musket. It was a smoothbore and fired a round ball of .75 caliber, approximately three-quarters of an inch in diameter, with a black-powder charge, ignited by flint, that pushed the ball at seven or eight hundred feet per second. when it left the muzzle (modern rifles send the bullet out at just over three thousand feet per second).

Because a round ball fired from a smoothbore is so pitifully inaccurate - the ball bounces off the side of the bore as it progresses down the barrel - the Brown Bess was really only good out to about fifty yards. The ball would vary in flight so widely that it was common for a soldier to aim at one man coming at him and hit another man four feet to the left or right...

The militia volunteers were usually used to supplement the Continental (soldiers), but were quite often not as dependable or steady as they could have been had they been trained better, and they often evaporated after receiving the first volley and before the bayonets came. Most of them were also issued smoothbore muskets and some had bayonets for them, but others had rifles, which were very effective at long range but could not mount bayonets.

Special Ranger groups, such as Morgan's Rangers, had an effect far past their numbers because of the rifles they carried. A rifle, by definition, has a series of spiral grooves down the inside of the barrel - with the low pressure of black powder, the rifling then was with a slow twist, grooved with a turn of about one rotation for thirty-five or forty inches. A patched ball was gripped tightly in the bore and the grooved rifling, and the long bore (up to forty inches) enabled a larger powder charge, which allowed the ball to achieve a much higher velocity, more than twice that of the smoothbores. And the high rate of rotation, or spin, stabilized the ball flight, resulting in greater accuracy.


I enjoyed Woods Runner. It's a good tale, and I learned a little bit about warfare in that time that was interesting. Give it a try!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

MARCH, Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

As you might imagine, MARCH: Book Two picks up where Book One left off, both on the day of Barack Obama's first presidential inauguration in 2009 and back in 1961.

Early in the book, John Lewis turns 21 - then the age of majority - and no longer requires parental permission to attend marches and protests and the like. He decides to head deeper in the south to Alabama, to ride buses as part of the Freedom Riders. On his application to join this particular movement, he wrote

I know that an education is important and I hope to get one, but human dignity is the most important thing in my life. This is the most important decision in my life--to decide to give up all if necessary for the freedom ride, that justice and freedom might come to the deep south.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

Henry Page has never had a girlfriend, but he thinks he knows what it is going to be like to find his soulmate. That series of events was so NOT what he experienced when he saw Grace Town walk into his classroom for the first time. Grace was wearing over-sized men's clothing, had unkempt hair, appeared as if she has not showered in a couple days, and walked with a cane, but there was something about her that stuck with Henry. There are so many things about her that Henry doesn't know and she won't talk about that he simply cannot stop thinking about her. 
Does he like her? Does she like him? First love, how exactly does one do that?
LIttle twists and turns in each character's story weave together to form an intricate web of love, loss, family, and friends.
Krystal Sutherland has written beautiful characters to be devoured. Fans of Rainbow Rowell and John Green will love this story.

Friday, March 17, 2017

readergirlz news

I've been with both readergirlz and Guys Lit Wire since they began, and since we have some crossover readership, I wanted to share the rgz news with the GLW community. As posted by Lorie Ann Grover:

Dearest readergirlz,

When we began this nonprofit organization ten years ago, readers in all demographics did not have access to authors. This access was our aim, our mission. The founders of readergirlz were driven to make those connections around the world. And we did.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

 What if you could be the Grim Reaper?

That's the reality in this awesome new book by Neal Shusterman. It's the future, death is a thing of the past. Nano technology means that even getting hit by a Mack Truck isn't the end.

Sure, you'll spend a few days in a recovery centre while you're pieced back together, but hey, the recovery centres have the best hot fudge sundaes in town.  There's no ageing, there's no disease, there's no crime.

On top of this, there's no government. Instead, the online "Cloud", now known as the Thunderhead, is an all knowing, all seeing leader of the world.

To keep the human population from spiralling out of control, select people are chosen to be Scythes, those who live a monk like existence and whose job it is to dole out death.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

I am part of a committee at my library system that plans social book talks- we find books that speak to pressing social issues and then we host an event inviting the public to come in and discuss the book and the issues.
ghost-9781481450157_hr.jpg (1400×2128)I am part of a committee at my library system that plans social book talks- we find books that speak to pressing social issues and then we host an event inviting the public to come in and discuss the book and the issues. This month we partnered with a local book store and  we were able to bring in the authors of All American Boys last Saturday for an inspiring conversation. Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds are two great guys. Reynolds in particular is on a hot streak and  his latest book is Ghost.

Set in the city it deals with a young tween called Castle Crenshaw who describes himself as having "mad and sad feelings" which sometimes leads to altercations at school.. He has had a hard life and now he and his mom eke out a hardscrabble existence in a less than desirable neighborhood. His mother works long hours to provide for them both and she has high expectations for him.

He is a tough kid but not tough enough to escape frequent taunts at school from a bully. He stumbles into a track meet one day and although he isn't impressed by the coach's gruff manner and reptilian appearance (Castle thinks he has a "turtle face") he tries out. Lo and behold he discovers that he is a runner. Coach invites him to join the team and thus begins a new phase in Castle's life.

This book covers a lot of topics. I like it's hopeful tone however. Castle is a kid with many flaws but he is resilient, he knows right from wrong and works hard. With those qualities he will go far in life. This is the first in Reynolds' Track series so I will definitely keep my eyes open for future installments. I recommend this book for ages 9 and up. Some read alikes are Coe Booth' s Kinda Like Brothers and  Andrew Clements' The Jacket.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas




Sometimes a book arrives with so much pre-publication hype that you cannot help but be disappointed when you actually read it. Not because the book is bad, necessarily, but because the hype created impossible expectations. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is NOT that book. Impossible expectations have been met, and I cannot overstate the love I give to The Hate U Give as I join the chorus of voices praising this debut novel.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Four-Four-Two by Dean Hughes

Yuki Nakahara is an American. He was born here and is a citizen. His parents on the other hand, were not. After Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which directed the removal of "enemy aliens" from coastal areas labeled war zones. Because of their Japanese ancestry, Yuki's father was sent to a prison for investigation while Yuki and the rest of his family were rounded up and sent to an internment camp in Utah. They were called traitors and cursed as "the enemy."
Yuki, and many of the other young Americans of Japanese Ancestry (AJA), want nothing more than to prove their patriotism by fighting for America, THEIR country.

This story is truly amazing. Reading about what these men endured, how they fought, where they fought, how they were used as assets in the European theater, and how they died was fascinating.

Yuki was fictionally deployed as part of the 100th/442nd Regimental Combat Team, a combat team that in real life was comprised of about 18,000 AJAs throughout the course of the war. They are still the most decorated unit in U.S. military history. Approximately 50% earned a Purple Heart and they suffered a staggering 314% casualty rate.

I highly recommend this book. It is an extremely timely story! So much of the political atmosphere right now regarding Muslims in America sounds so similar to the attitude and behavior of the U.S. government its citizens around the time of World War II.

Here are a couple of interesting links for more information about Japanese Americans in World War II.
Go For Broke National Education Center
The mission of this organization is "to educate and inspire character and equality through the virtue and valor of our World War II American veterans of Japanese ancestry."

Allegiance
George Takei of Star Trek fame, who was rounded up and relocated to an internment camp with his family, has created a Broadway musical based on a true story of another family.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Crongton Knights by Alex Wheatle

From the Guardian a couple of months ago, author Alex Wheatle won the children's fiction prize for Crongton Knights. Here's a bit from the article:

A writer who traces his interest in books back to a spell in jail after the 1981 Brixton riots has won the Guardian children’s fiction prize with a hard-hitting novel set on a fictitious inner-city estate plagued by knife crime and overrun by phone-jacking “hood rats”. 

Alex Wheatle is the 50th writer to have won the award, joining a roster that includes Ted Hughes, Philip Pullman, Mark Haddon and Jacqueline Wilson. 

His winning novel, Crongton Knights, is the second in a planned trilogy set on the South Crongton estate, where schoolboy McKay’s rash attempt to help out a girl in danger of exposure for sexting after her phone is stolen takes him on a mission even more dangerous than his more usual challenge of dodging early-morning visits by the bailiffs to his tower block home. 

 Wheatle's frustrations over his publishing history for adults is evident in a second interview that also ran in November.

Here's a bit from that:

“I felt like I was this token black writer who writes about ghetto stuff,” Wheatle says. He believes working-class characters are increasingly thin on the ground, while the handful of black writers who are feted often explore sweeping tales of immigrant experience, rather than domestic tales rooted firmly in one place and time. “My books are seen as only for a black demographic, whereas Zadie Smith or Andrea Levy’s were propelled higher than that, so I felt cheated, in a way.”

Fortunately, he has found acclaim writing for teens, and is producing some powerful - and award winning - stuff.  While his books are not available in the US yet, but you can buy them online - the first in the trilogy is Liccle Bit, then Crongton Knights and, due in April, Straight Outta Crongton. Wheatle sounds like an amazing writer - be sure to check him out.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Joel ben Izzy interview

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780803740976
I recently interviewed Joel ben Izzy, author of Dreidels on the Brain, as part of the 2017 Sydney Taylor Book Award blog tour. Joel is the recipient of the Sydney Taylor Honor Book in the Older Readers category. In the interview, we discussed how his work as a novelist and a storyteller.

"I suppose that, as a storyteller, most of my life walks the tightrope between fiction and non-fiction," he said, describing Dreidels on the Brain as "mostly a memoir, with some parts fictionalized. But I think that the hard and fast distinction between 'fiction' and 'non-fiction' is overrated," he explained. "I think of my writing as something between the two - 'faction.'"

Learn more about Joel's writing rituals, his stories, and his inspirations in our interview at Bildungsroman.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Joseph is 14 and just got out of prison.

He took a pill that made him go sideways and he attacked a teacher.

Now, as part of his rehabilitation he must stay away from his unstable father and join Jack and his parents as a foster child.

Living on a farm, Joseph works out his demons and tells his foster brother Jack, who's twelve, bits and pieces of his life story.

It turns out Joseph has a daughter named Jupiter, whom he's not allowed to see. Joseph's life revolves around finding where Jupiter is no matter what the cost.

Told by twelve year old Jack, Orbiting Jupiter is told in a short simplistic style that cuts like a razor. The scenes where Jack and Joseph are walking to school in sub zero temperatures reminded me so much of walking to school in Nova Scotia that I felt my bones go cold. I wish I had discovered this book sooner because it would've been my top book of 2016. A heartbreaker, don't miss it.

Gutless by Carl Deuker


Brock is a good, strong name usually associated with a strong character. Not so in this sports novel however. Our Brock is a good kid but as the title suggests he is somewhat of a shrinking violet when it comes to high pressure situations..

Brock is a normal high school kid in Seattle. He plays a bit of soccer and overall does what he's supposed to do.  One day he meets Jimmy Fang, a stereotypical Asian kid who is whip smart. Fang is a Renaissance man however and he just happens to be good in soccer too. He and Brock bond as teammates and become friends. Deuker skilfully manipulates situations that Brock finds himself. I for one don't know how I would have reacted if I were in his shoes at that age.

Football is a quintessential American sport and its players are known for being brave. Fans admire them and that can sometimes create a god mentality. Although it is somewhat of a stereotype, the football star in this novel is also a bigot and he encourages his hangers on to bully and jeer Jimmy for little reason other than due to the fact that he's Asian, a bit weird and very smart. Jimmy however is not the stereotypical Asian in one way however-his temper. He stands up for himself despite Brock's desire that he not do so because of the social order of the school.

This is a very necessary book for the times that we live in. Bullying is very real and often the bullied do not fight back and prefer to suffer in silence.  There is a an unspoken code about snitching that permeates our culture.  This book shows the consequences for both bully and bullied and for me is a good starting point for the dialogue that must occur in order for change to occur.