This was good all in all, despite a few issues. This isn't a graphic novel exactly, but it does use elements from that format. Passages of regular pro...moreThis was good all in all, despite a few issues. This isn't a graphic novel exactly, but it does use elements from that format. Passages of regular prose are interspersed with comic panels to tell the story of how two friends deal with loss. Holly's twin brother Corey is killed when she and her friend Savitri (also Corey's girlfriend) are out free-running through a bad neighborhood in Chicago. Corey is shot while trying to protect Holly, who lapses into a coma from her own injuries. Savitri witnesses the incident. At first I thought this story was a futuristic fantasy, because free-running, which is apparently just acrobatic running, confused me. Despite some of the other fantastical elements in the story, readers should know this book is rooted firmly in the real world. Savitri is understandably upset after Corey's death, but Holly spirals rapidly out of control after waking from her coma. She is obsessed with tracking down the killer and also with bringing Corey back. Savitri tries her best to support Holly, but feels helpless as she watches her slip away.
I would give this book to reluctant readers. The illustrations would appeal to graphic novel fans and perhaps cajole them into reading full novels in the future. I thought the portrayal of grief was realistic despite some otherwise iffy writing at times. Random capital letters, sentences broken apart to reflect the physicality of emotions, etc., were distracting at times, though would probably appeal to the intended audience. I found the grief aspect of the story to be the strongest, and this book might also help someone who could relate to the situation. At times the plot was outlandish, but it does mirror the often-hackneyed plot lines of comic books. This book was certainly an homage to that style, and it did work in that regard.(less)
Kind of a less exuberant Ramona Quimby. I'd give this to kids who have finished the Beverly Cleary series and need something else to read that's simil...moreKind of a less exuberant Ramona Quimby. I'd give this to kids who have finished the Beverly Cleary series and need something else to read that's similar.(less)
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Georgie Burkhardt is convinced that her missing sister Agatha is not dead, even if the local she...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Georgie Burkhardt is convinced that her missing sister Agatha is not dead, even if the local sheriff has found a body wearing her dress. Despite what others try to tell her, Georgie believes Agatha is still alive. So, as any determined kid with some extra money would do, she procures a mule, a traveling companion and her grandfather's gun so she can set off to find her sister. Along the way, Georgie has encounters ranging from hilarious to dire, and she discovers less about what happened to her sister than she does about herself.
This book is pretty tight in construction, though it got a little choppy toward the end. A few scenes felt a little contrived, and at times it was hard to distinguish whether or not Georgie was telling the story from a distanced, adult perspective. However, the story was satisfying and filled with action and the appropriate amount of self-introspection. Georgie was a great character, and readers will appreciate her tenacity, even if it is at times foolish.
I liked the descriptions, and I also enjoyed the style, which was pretty much evoked the tone and setup of a western, though not the ridiculous, cliched kind of movies and TV. I think adults and children alike will enjoy this.(less)
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Ben Hatke pulls out all the stops in his final installment of the Zita the Spacegirl series. I'm...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Ben Hatke pulls out all the stops in his final installment of the Zita the Spacegirl series. I'm sad to this series go, because the last one was the best yet. The illustrations and how they were delineated frame by frame were excellent and added a great sense of dynamism and pacing to the story. Zita remains indefatigable and courageous to the end. She's a great character, who's instantly relatable. All of her sidekicks, from the flying robot One to the space pirate Piper, add something to the narrative. She even has time to make a couple of new friends before her adventures end, and they're just as necessary to the narrative.
These are great books for reluctant readers who might be wary of longer titles. The illustrations are a great gateway into building reading confidence. Boys and girls alike will enjoy this series, which is inspiring without being over the top or forced. Zita has to make it through one final confrontation in order to save her friends and Earth itself. This is a must for any children's graphic novel collection.(less)
This was a really easy and engrossing read, but much like the rest of Laini Taylor's work, it had its' ups and downs. Each story in this set focuses o...moreThis was a really easy and engrossing read, but much like the rest of Laini Taylor's work, it had its' ups and downs. Each story in this set focuses on a kiss and its outcome. Sometimes the kiss is good and sometimes it's bad. Sometimes it's something else. Illustrations bracket the beginning and end of each story, and readers glean their full meaning as they make their way through to the end. I didn't love the illustrations. They were OK. I didn't feel like they added that much to the text that they were a necessity. Still, the concept was original.
This set is an obvious precursor to Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which makes use of the same main ideas and themes found here. Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone lives in a real world so surreal it might as well be a fantasy. Her blue hair and artistic leanings, however, serve as a mask to hide her loneliness, longing and unfulfilled sense of self. In Lips Touch: Three Times, the characters are all starving in some regard. They want more than what they have, though they can't pinpoint it, and Taylor does a really good job in each story of depicting this aching void, at first. Her writing usually starts off so pleasantly theatrically, well-paced word by word and propulsive enough to hide the fact that her stories include weaknesses. These weaknesses, however, tend to become apparent a little over half-way through her stories. The writing stops being so lyrical, and the fact that she seems to think all international locales are exotic, magical and filled with their own individual brand of caricatured foreigner is troubling at best. This book drew flawed and anachronistic pictures of Romani, India and the ancient Zoroastrians. Of course these are just stories, but I'm unclear why she repeatedly chooses to portray people from other cultures in such a carnivalesque manner.
The descriptions in her stories, again, are the best part. These tales are no exception, though they tend to peter out in quality as you read on, as I mentioned. The first and second stories, while problematic, were fun and really cool stories about the nature of isolation. The final story was so convoluted and messy that it almost-outright failed. In any case, I enjoyed it, and it was a nice break from some other crap I can't seem to bring myself to finish.(less)
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Saints is the second volume in an amazing two-part graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, and though a...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Saints is the second volume in an amazing two-part graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, and though about half the length of the first installment, Boxers, I would say Saints is the more compelling of the two. Boxers and Saints tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion, a violent uprising against white imperialists that took place in China in the late 19th Century and part of the early 20th Century. Part of what some Chinese considered to be part of this imperialism was the introduction of Christianity into the country. In the first volume, main character Little Bao believes the missionaries are an invasive and oppressive imperialist presence harming China. However, in Saints, main character Vibiana sees Christianity as a refuge from her crushing family life.
Vibiana is the fourth and only surviving daughter of a widow whose father-in-law resents girls and merely calls Vibiana by the number of her birth order "Four-Girl," the word four in Chinese also being a homonym for "death." She is ill-treated and disrespected by her family and so believes she is evil and worthless. Vibiana has heard the Christian missionaries are devils and misguidedly believes that because she is a devil herself she should fall in with this group. In the beginning she is uninterested in the religion and merely desires to fulfill the nature of the identity she has been given by her family. Her self-loathing is the most poignant aspect of the story.
Vibiana later begins to be visited by the image of Joan of Arc and hopes to emulate this warrior maiden who fought for God and the liberation of her country from invaders. Four Girl takes the name Vibiana, because of its Christian origin and eventually begins to believe that she is also a warrior maiden like Joan of Arc. Vibiana feels the Boxer rebels are butchers and opposes their cause.
While Boxers tells the story of this rebellion from the point of view of the rebels, Saints shows how a beaten-down person might find refuge in the values of the opposing side because the world she in which she has been brought up has betrayed her. One doesn't need to read both volumes to enjoy and understand the story, but the reading experience is richer if both books are read together. I was really impressed by these stories, and I look forward to reading more by this author.(less)
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One of the more interesting examinations of gender I've read in young adult literature. Highly r...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
One of the more interesting examinations of gender I've read in young adult literature. Highly referential and often quite funny, this book forces readers to think about perception by making use of pop culture and fairytales in an unusual way. Bennett Madison creates a heightened reality in this story about 17-year-old Sam's summer vacation with his father and brother; their trip is more like a summer escape, as it transpires suddenly at the whim of their father, who has abruptly quit his job following the departure of Sam's mother for the "Land of Women."
At first what seems misogynistic gives way to a smart and layered examination of how men and other women often perceive what Simone De Beauvoir referred to quite adroitly as the second sex. Those familiar with that philosophy will love this book, which dissects the male gaze and other patriarchal constructs in a way that readers may not even realize at first.
The story is told from the point of view of Sam and also a collective narrative from the Girls, who inhabit the vacation town where Sam is staying. Sam is bewildered, bitchy and depressed following his mother's departure. And, his father and brother aren't dealing well with it either. When they arrive on an island off the cost of North Carolina, Sam immediately picks up on the fact that these Girls, who all seem to look eerily alike, are also all eerily interested in him.
Perception is the point form which this story pivots. That in itself is the force behind the male gaze, so readers should not be surprised that Sam (and his brother and father) still grapples with what he doesn't understand until the last pages, even if his feelings and views originate from a place of benevolence. I like that the author did this. It's worthwhile to leave things open ended in most cases.
Last thing: I loved the setting in this book. By "love" I mean I loved how it was described but didn't actually want to visit this fake beach town. Bennett Madison likely hung around the same shore towns I did growing up, because the way he constructed this place reminded me far too much of the way I felt while visiting the beach as a kid: listless, bored, repelled, disgusted, depressed, filthy, but also sort of at peace in quiet moments. The sense of dread and impermanence and also deflation was all there on these pages. A really interesting read that should justifiably generate a lot of discussion.(less)
If I had to use one word to describe this book, it would be: boring. This book was boring. It was so boring I couldn't stand it. The premise was uniqu...moreIf I had to use one word to describe this book, it would be: boring. This book was boring. It was so boring I couldn't stand it. The premise was unique and had a lot of promise. A 12-year-old girl who has recently recovered from a bout with malaria spends her summer with her brother and grandparents wheat harvesting in the Midwest. Several things provide the basic construct for the story. Summer is so afraid of catching malaria again that she obsessively scrubs her skin with DEET (a worrisome choice that is never fully resolved or addressed but is consistently mentioned); her brother Jaz exists somewhere on the autism spectrum, and Summer occasionally reflects on his difficulty with making friends; and, finally, Summer meets a large cast of characters while wheat harvesting that teach her a lot about the different ways people can behave under different circumstances.
All of the above could have made for an interesting story, but it wasn't so much the plot itself that was problematic. Summer must take over for her grandparents in their duties because they are often under the weather. Through this, she gains confidence in herself and learns a lot about how people sometimes make their own luck and when they don't, they have to adjust as best they can. Kadohata's main hangup was in the writing style, which was tedious and extremely flat. She spent too much describing the process of wheat harvest, providing literal instructions on how this is done. There were also pointless illustrations scattered throughout the story that added nothing to the text. Finally, the story in general felt underdeveloped. Concepts were introduced and then wrapped up quickly and clumsily.
Summer's parents are away in Japan taking care of sick relatives, and they never actually enter the action at any point in the story. This didn't hurt the narrative, though. The grandparents prove to be valid and interesting authority figures, helping Summer to understand the nature of hard work, relationships and life. They were about the only interesting thing about this story, but even their personalities left something to be desired in terms of development.
There were also periodic references to the World War II-era novel A Separate Peace, about the troubled relationship between two friends. The author's desire to tie that book to this story was clunky at best. I don't see much relation between the two, and nor will readers, most of whom probably have not and will not read A Separate Peace. I've seen this before in children's books. I'm unclear why authors of books for young people feel the need to draw comparison between other stories. The only book I really felt effectively did this was When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. But more often than not, I see no reason for the inclusion of such a device.
This won the National Book Award. I could see why judges might choose this book, which rapidly became very philosophical in the last 30 pages, but I would make a large case for skipping over this story. I felt like I was reading a news article rather than a novel. (less)
I love this author-illustrator team, particularly the illustrator Gabbi Swiatkowska, who does such unusual and fanciful illustrations that resemble th...moreI love this author-illustrator team, particularly the illustrator Gabbi Swiatkowska, who does such unusual and fanciful illustrations that resemble the Art Nouveau style. A cool little book about manners and pets. Good for acting out too.(less)
Excellent book about those who were left behind in the struggle for American independence. Isabel is a slave girl caught between the rebel cause and t...moreExcellent book about those who were left behind in the struggle for American independence. Isabel is a slave girl caught between the rebel cause and the British effort to squelch the opposition. She is stirred by the writings of Thomas Paine, and the inspiring words about equality from the revolutionaries. However, she soon learns that not all men are created equal after all, because the revolution is designed only to give whites independence; not freedom for black slaves.
Anderson interweaves quotes from famous historical figures of the day, which bring to light the hypocrisy of the revolution and also the inhumane treatment of prisoners, slaves and servants, white and black alike. The author has clearly done her research on this topic, as she effortlessly weaves real historical events into her fictional narrative.
My one issue with Anderson's writing, however, has always been that her characters seem less like unique individuals and more like mouthpieces for whatever issue she is examining in her novels. Other than Melinda from Speak, I've never been able to get a fully realized picture of her narrators. They certainly go through important struggles, but they lack nuance. Anderson is definitely a great writer, and her use of description and setting are excellent and evocative of the plights of her characters. A good class discussion book for sure.(less)
This short graphic novel about a girl who has recently been exiled from her peer group for undisclosed reasons is excellent. The illustrations are pro...moreThis short graphic novel about a girl who has recently been exiled from her peer group for undisclosed reasons is excellent. The illustrations are probably my favorite part, and they complement the writing so well. Helene deals with isolation, bullying, body issues and longing for friends who will accept her, as she goes about her life. The illustrations are primarily done in grey tones, but they explode with color when she tells the reader the story of Jane Eyre, her only consolation. While much of the story is somber in nature, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for Helene, and by the end she is hopeful things will improve for her. This was a realistic look at bullying and also the ways we find comfort when isolated.
I'm not sure the ending of Jane Eyre was related that well within the context of the story of Helene, and the fox from the title has little to no bearing on the plot. Readers may also find the timeline confusing. I think the book is set in the 1980s, but it's hard to tell. Those are small weaknesses, though. This is a really good book that can be enjoyed by kids, teens and adults.(less)
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Kate DiCamillo's latest book deserves an A+ just for originality alone. Flora and Ulyssses: The...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
Kate DiCamillo's latest book deserves an A+ just for originality alone. Flora and Ulyssses: The Illuminated Adventures mixes allegory with a superhero storytelling sensibility to excellent effect. Flora is a self-described cynic, who frequently reminds herself never to hope, but only to observe. She loves escaping her lonely and flat existence with her mother, a self-absorbed writer of romance novels, by reading comic books about a mild-mannered individual who becomes a superhero.
Despite her cynical nature, Flora is convinced that she has come across a very unusual squirrel, who survives certain death at the hands of a vacuum cleaner. She names him Ulysses, after his failed executioner the vacuum cleaner, and takes him in, much to the chagrin of Flora's mother. Along the way, the reader meets Flora's neighbor and her visiting great-nephew William Spiver, Flora's father and several other characters are who surprised but mostly pleased to learn of Ulysses' unbelievable talents.
DiCamillo has a real knack for communicating the profound in a subtle way. Without being preachy or overly didactic, the author showcases the loneliness inherent in Flora, the value of friendship and faith in others and oneself and the importance of effective communication. The fact that she does this by telling the story in a style similar to a comic book's narrative adds a fresh level of nuance to a book with an otherwise-well-trod concept. Finding one's self-worth is not a new idea in children's literature, but the way DiCamillo brings this theme to light is almost surreal. Ulysses is not so much a character, as a reflection of Flora's own hopes and dreams that she doesn't allow herself to feel out of the threat of being disappointed.
I don't normally like books with animals, whether they talk, think or merely exist as the focal point of a story without any special abilities. But, this isn't really a book about a squirrel. It's about the things I mentioned above, and the illustrations add a whole other dimension to this great book. (less)
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An interesting premise that unfortunately doesn't fully pay off. It's Bunning Day, and Ruby Pepp...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
An interesting premise that unfortunately doesn't fully pay off. It's Bunning Day, and Ruby Pepperdine has been chosen to read her winning essay during the city's annual founder's day parade. While the town is abuzz with excitement, Ruby is awash with anxiety over whether a wish she has made to correct the past will come true. Chapters alternate between the events of the day and what has brought the reader to this point. Ruby has burned two bridges; one with her oldest and best friend and another with a friend she was certain she was about to make.
If her wish comes true, perhaps her final moments with her grandmother will make sense and she'll have some resolution about her death. And, maybe her friends will forgive her.
I liked Ruby's character. She had an authentic voice, and her worries about her behavior toward her friends and family (and her lack of awareness of the world around her in the wake of her grandmother's passing) will resonate with young readers. But, the narrative was flawed in several ways. First of all, I hate second-person point of view. It's ridiculous and something all creative writing students are told not to do on almost the first day of creative writing class. This was not the only way the story was told, however. Sometimes the narrative would shift to first-person, present, and other times the story would change to past tense. I couldn't keep track of what had happened in the past and what was currently happening. I thought the author's attempt to heighten Ruby's anxiety, by alternating between past and present, was highly interesting, but the author bit off more than she could chew. The story also beat readers over the head with a drawn-out doughnut metaphor that was really unnecessary. Kids are smarter than a long-winded doughnut metaphor.
Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I wouldn't count it as a possible award winner this year. It's sweet and possessed some profound elements, but it's not as clever as it would like to be.(less)
This wasn't bad. However, the writing dragged through the middle, and I felt the story was kind of underdeveloped. It seemed like it needed to be long...moreThis wasn't bad. However, the writing dragged through the middle, and I felt the story was kind of underdeveloped. It seemed like it needed to be longer despite dragging. The ghost subplot was a little odd, but it could provide readers with some interesting discussion in the classroom. This reminded me of Everything on a Waffle a little, as cooking is a major theme, as is foster care and uncertainty.(less)
The best one yet in this series. The main mystery that drove the action was intertwined with the continuing mystery of Mary's past, along with the con...moreThe best one yet in this series. The main mystery that drove the action was intertwined with the continuing mystery of Mary's past, along with the continuing evolution of the relationship between Mary and James. (less)
Another interesting read in the Agency series. These are a lot of fun, though the second volume was just a little bit of a drag compared to the introd...moreAnother interesting read in the Agency series. These are a lot of fun, though the second volume was just a little bit of a drag compared to the introductory story in the set. This time Mary Quinn is posing as a boy on a construction site, in an effort to find out the truth behind the mysterious death of one of the workers. Mary is also reunited with her sometime love interest James Easton. Their bickering still packs humor, but their interactions in this story are just a little more angst-ridden than in the last book. In all, this story had an altogether heavier aspect to it than A Spy in the House. The prose also dragged a little from time to time. All the same, lots of intrigue and back alley skulking to keep readers entertain. These books are super short and super engaging, even when they lag a little at times.(less)
Super cool book about the woman who instigated a massive strike in the garment industry. Nothing like a book about workers' rights to get you going! A...moreSuper cool book about the woman who instigated a massive strike in the garment industry. Nothing like a book about workers' rights to get you going! Awesome.(less)
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This was a little difficult to get through, more so than I was expecting, considering it read so...moreCheck this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.
This was a little difficult to get through, more so than I was expecting, considering it read so quickly when I did sit down and make a go of it. This fantasy was light and pleasant, but had a little too much going on for it to be completely engaging. The world-building wasn't fleshed out all that well, and the language was a little awkward. Additionally, the way the author chose to tell the story was distracting.
What I did like about this book was the examination of what it means to be beautiful and a good leader as well. The princess Violet is a spunky girl with unusual looks, which sometimes give her enough pause to doubt her worth as a princess. This leads to the central conflict in the story, though what started out as a fairly straightforward narrative became convoluted and poorly explained in the second half of the book.
Despite its length, I would recommend this book to children in third of fourth grade. Third-graders who are good readers would enjoy this, though it's most appropriate for fourth-graders. The illustrations are inconsequential, but their presence makes this book a bit basic in nature for students in fifth grade and beyond. This story wouldn't be at the top of my list of fantasy to recommend to fans of the genre, but it's got some unique elements that make it fresh in a genre mostly frequented by boys. (less)
A refreshing, if not perfect, book that includes a realistic central character with an authentic voice and universal problems.
Leah is in the midst of a debilitating depression following the death of her boyfriend several months ago. She rarely eats or leaves the apartment they shared and ignores her job, school and family and friends up to the point that she loses said job and nearly flunks out of school. Just as she's about to hit rock bottom, she is offered a temporary refuge by her boyfriend's aunt, who went through a similar situation when her husband died. Leah moves to a quiet town and stays in the aunt's spare house. It's this shelter, sense of anonymity and freedom from many of her obligations that allows Leah to finally get over her grief and move on.
Found about this story from a School Library Journal blog, which includes interesting commentary about the genesis of the book. Read the post here: Come See About Me.
What I most liked was the character's open, honest and unselfconscious narrative. Without ceremony or evasion, Leah describes her grief, ambivalence to her family and friends in the wake of her boyfriend's death and how she embarks on a casual relationship with a stranger following months of loneliness, numbness and boredom. I found Leah's frankness about her sexuality to be refreshing, as most women are still portrayed as either loathsome slags or saintly virgins in the best of literature. Leah personifies the real feelings and thoughts modern women have about life. While she's conflicted about many of the decisions she makes, Leah shares the details with the reader without reservation. In fact, the narrative style felt like an extended, open diary.
This narrative style certainly lent to giving Leah a realistic voice, but at times her descriptions dragged a bit. There was absolutely no stylistic nuance to this story even though it was extremely easy reading. I liked how cut and dry Leah could be, but at times I didn't know why I was receiving so many descriptions of her pet hamster or what happened between Leah and a friend the reader never actually meets on the page. I also was unsure why the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood played such a huge role.
Overlong descriptions aside, I ultimately found the book effective in portraying Leah's battle with grief and her foray into figuring out what it means to lead an adult life. I found the ending a little eye-roll-inducing, but I thought Leah dealt with most of the situations she faced with maturity. When she acted irrationally, I felt she at least behaved realistically for her age and given those situations.
Also, big thumbs up to the author for including a non-judgmental and matter-of-fact use of the morning-after pill. Leah and her partner fail to use contraception during their first encounter, and rather than just wait around hoping she isn't pregnant, she immediately seeks out a legal and effective form of birth control without catching hell from anybody about it. I suppose mention of the morning-after pill is a political statement in itself, but the author did a good job of dealing with it like Leah was taking any other medication for any other medical condition.
Final note: this book is a bit more detailed about sex than your average YA book. While the characters are adults, I don't think this story is meant for mature adults. This is for upper high school and college students. I'm long out of college and I'm not going to lie - my eyes goggled a few times while reading this. But that's not a criticism - it's just a story meant for mature readers.(less)
Lots of fun! This book is the first in a series about a girl who was nearly hanged at the age of 12 for pickpocketing. Instead, Mary is saved from her...moreLots of fun! This book is the first in a series about a girl who was nearly hanged at the age of 12 for pickpocketing. Instead, Mary is saved from her fate by a mysterious woman who offers her a chance at a different but albeit unusual life for a girl living in Victorian London. A Spy in the House utilizes all of the best aspects of a Dickens mystery while eschewing the tedium and convolution. Just enough characters to add intrigue but not too many that you can't keep track of them.
A good book for girls who like historical fiction but feel alienated from the narrow lives the female characters often had to endure. This story shows all of the gritty underside of Victorian life while still remaining fun.(less)
Excellent set of short stories about Na Liu's childhood in China in the 1970s. The stories are tight and demonstrate how China was changing during the...moreExcellent set of short stories about Na Liu's childhood in China in the 1970s. The stories are tight and demonstrate how China was changing during the period just after the death of Mao. This graphic novel does a great job of showing China as a multidimensional place with good points and bad. The meaning of the little white duck mentioned in the title was depicted excellently, and readers will likely come to some interesting hypotheses about what it represents. Lots of nice back matter for discussion about China too. I also love the cohesion of the color palette. The same tones are used throughout, and it gives you a great sense of unity in the story set. This lacked a bit of narrative cohesion at times, with certain elements needing a bit more development and fleshing out. Otherwise, awesome book.(less)
This book, while somewhat simplistic and dated in some senses, is highly complex its illustration of the multifaceted nature of reality. The concept o...moreThis book, while somewhat simplistic and dated in some senses, is highly complex its illustration of the multifaceted nature of reality. The concept of the tesseract in this book is the best way to show that thinking and perceiving and even emotion are more than just linear, concrete things. The use of math, science, history and writing all mingle to send the reader on a real head trip. This book succeeds in its attempt to ask readers to think not just differently but as if you could bend your mind like a pretzel. This story almost comes off like it was written by somebody on acid because it's so odd and heady. At the same time, its depiction of conformity (which is very much reminiscent of a critique of communism) is a bit one-dimensional. This book also gets a little over the top in the life lesson vein. All the same, really unique and definitely a benchmark for children's literature.(less)
This was funny and somehow worked despite the extremely anachronistic dialogue! This is about bravery, thinking on your feet, the power seeing the obv...moreThis was funny and somehow worked despite the extremely anachronistic dialogue! This is about bravery, thinking on your feet, the power seeing the obvious and realizing your sense of self-worth. Good book for 2nd grade and up.(less)
This was a strange book - incredibly light and fast reading, but perplexing in its intent. Keeping the Castle seesaws between a peon to the Regency pe...moreThis was a strange book - incredibly light and fast reading, but perplexing in its intent. Keeping the Castle seesaws between a peon to the Regency period in English history and a tongue-in-cheek farce. This book has a funny cast of characters who all resemble various characters you have met before in Jane Austen novels. The pastiche is done very well, with the dialogue and narrative perfectly capturing everything Regency fans love about Austen novels. However, Keeping the Castle is more obvious and blatant in style and tone and therefore lacking in the sharp subtlety that makes Jane Austen really stand out through history as a unique author.
Althea, much like your typical Austen heroine, must marry for money in order to secure her own livelihood and the livelihoods of her relatives. While witty, keenly observing and generally more rational than those around her, Althea, much like Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennett, can be blind to her own faults at times. The references to Jane Austen come off a bit like a greatest hits, and if you think each character reminds you a lot of Emma, Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy or even some lesser lights in the Austen cannon, then you've got it right on. It's unclear how much Patrice Kindl wants readers to knowingly laugh at all of the obvious references to the source material or if she just really wants to recreate an Austen novel.
Either way, it generally comes off well, and this book like brain candy - easily digestible though not necessarily harboring any lasting nutritional value. While Austen novels astutely skewer society and human relationships with the intent to point out hypocrisy and human failings, this book seems to enjoy being funny for its own sake. The strange thing about this book is that it would seem to be intended as a gateway for students, so they can later find their way into a Regency novel. However, the tone and style of the book make it seem as if much of the reader's enjoyment rests on having already read Austen and the like. The number of winking in-jokes riddled throughout the book would seem that this book is in reality meant for adults or older teens, though the level of complexity is more appropriate for a younger audience.
This brings me to an observation long-discussed about YA novels - that many of them are in reality (though perhaps unconsciously) written for adults. I don't see why a teen would pick this up. It's far too much like the source material, which would likely come off as boring to many teens. Don't get me wrong - I liked reading this through my adult lens and enjoyed all of the references to Austen as a devotee of her work. I just think it fails a little as a young adult novel.(less)
A slow starter that gradually grows into a thrilling tale of espionage set during the American Revolution! This book has classic children's literature...moreA slow starter that gradually grows into a thrilling tale of espionage set during the American Revolution! This book has classic children's literature written all over it in the vein of stories like My Brother Sam Is Dead, The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Johnny Tremain. Avi mixes hefty amounts of period vocabulary and language with real historical figures to successful effect. Sophia Calderwood becomes a spy in the home of British General Clinton in hopes of avenging her brother's death at the onset of the war. It is there that she learns of a plot between a British officer who boarded in her family's home when she was 12 and a famous Continental general. Torn between duty to her country and her brother's memory and her lingering childhood feelings for the charming enemy officer who once lodged in her home, Sophia must decide which side she is on as the time draws near for the plot to be executed.
A little heavy on historical detail at times, but overall the reader can learn a lot about the period without growing so bored as to put the book down. Sophia is an admirable and realistic heroine, who behaves fairly authentically for a girl her age; she ages from 12 to 15 by the end of the story. The ending was a little dramatic, and I had trouble believing in the depth of some of Sophia's feelings, but on the whole, this was a riveting tale of espionage. And, the spy is a girl - a great hook to use during a book talk!(less)