With all the Hunger Games hype in the media, I have been missing me some Katniss. The fierce, prickly but lovable hot-headed heroine of Suzanne CollinWith all the Hunger Games hype in the media, I have been missing me some Katniss. The fierce, prickly but lovable hot-headed heroine of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy holds a special place in my heart, let alone the canon of contemporary children’s literature. Hoping for a similar heroine and adrenaline rush I turned to a novel I have been meaning to read for ages, Kristin Cashore’s much lauded Graceling. My needs were totally met. If there was ever a YA all-star kick ass team, Katniss and Katsa, star of Graceling, would totally be my first string picks.
Cashore’s Katsa bears a striking resemblence to Katniss in more than just name. Like Katniss, Katsa is a strong-willed, cunning survivor. She is also a star archer, though a skill with bow and arrow is not Katsa’s only skill. In a fight Katsa is practically unbeatable. This is because she has been graced with the gift of fighting. In Cashore’s world, some people are born with heightened abilities that border on the supernatural. These people are marked by different coloured eyes and are feared and often used by those in power.
Katsa is the niece of the petty and dangerous king Randa, who takes advantage of her grace to bully his citizens. Unsatisfied with this goon work, Katsa also moonlights as a member of the Council, a Robin Hood and his Merry Thieves-esque secret society that does good throughout the seven lands. It is through her secret work in the council that Katsa stumbles upon a bizarre plot involving the kidnapping of an old man connected to the Lienid royal family and his handsome grandson, Prince Po, who possesses a powerful grace similar to Katsa’s. When Katsa and Po set off to discover thr truth behind the old man’s kidnapping, what they find is deeply unsettling.
Cashore’s writing is lush but not overdone, which is befitting of her traditional fantasy setting. Instead of Collins’ bleak distopian future, Cashore’s story takes place in that vaguely medieval other world of kings, queens and magic that so many fantasy novels tend to be situated in. These novels have a historical tinge to them, often feature riders on horseback, rough clothing made of furs, courtly intrigue, and decadent palaces.
There are some darker elements that push Graceling into the 12+ range, including animal cruelty and implied sexual violence against young women. The relationship between Po and Katsa does turn sexual, but it is in no way gratuitous or graphic. Instead, I found it was a healthy portrayal of a loving, consensual realtionship between equals; rare, and wonderful to stumble upon in YA fiction, where too often sex is portrayed as violent, cheap, or described in such elusive terms the reader has to guess at what is happening.*
There are other similarities to The Hunger Games, including an almost too good to be true love interest, a younger girl that needs Katsa’s protection, and a world ruled and fascinated by violence. All this being said, Graceling stands completley on it’s own, and is in no way a derivative or pale imitation of The Hunger Games. The fact that I would even compare the two is simply a testament to Graceling‘s quality and appeal. This is a fantasic, satisfying read for fantasy readers or lovers of strong female protagonists, aged 12+. Fans of Tamora Pierce and Erin Bow’s Plain Kate (another fantasy favourite, featuring a protagonist who also deserves a spot on my YA all star team) will especially eat this one up....more
Mystery is always a popular choice among young readers, and as Kevin Sylvester as proved with his successful Neil Flambé series, mystery with a bit ofMystery is always a popular choice among young readers, and as Kevin Sylvester as proved with his successful Neil Flambé series, mystery with a bit of humour and some spot illustrations is even better. Evan Munday’s new series is a great step up for older Flambé fans. His text is full of pop culture references, some more obscure than others, but comes with a handy reference guide in the back. Not knowing the references won’t frustrate or deter readers from the story. A successful graphic artist, Munday also proves himself to be a worthy wordsmith on his first foray into children’s literature.
October Schwartz is new to the aptly named Sticksville, located somewhere in Southern Ontario. She is motherless, likes to wear black, and is deep in the writerly throes of a book entitled Two Knives, One Hundred Thousand Demons, which she toils over in class or in the cemetery beside her house. It is this book that brings about the appearance of five dead kids, representing various historical eras (an aspiring loyalist shipbuilder, a depression era quintuplet, an underground railroad escapee, a Scottish immigrant from the early 1900s, and a Native activist). Their deaths are mysterious, but the reader is led to believe that they will one day be explained. I am always on the look out for a good supporting cast, and I especially took to October’s living friends- an unassuming, mild mannered boy named Stacey and the indomitable Yumi Takeshi. This trio of lovable outcasts have some great dialogue and their camaraderie feels authentic.
Canadian history is a much moaned about topic among students, who find it too dull, too diplomatic, and lacking in drama. Frieda Wishinksy’s Canadian Flyer series (for wee ones), Eric Wilson’s Tom and Liz Austen mysteries (a much adored series from my childhood that is perhaps in need of a cover makeover), and Scholastic’s uber successful Dear Canada and it’s brother series, I Am Canada, have gone to great lengths to improve the impressions young Canadians have about their country’s history. Munday’s new series is a welcome black sheep to this literary family, touching on various historical periods with tongue placed firmly in cheek. Fun, fresh and punchy, The Dead Kid Detective Agency adds life and a good dose of humour to Canadian history....more
Whoa. Just, whoa. Reading Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket)‘s latest offering, a searing YA break up story, I feel like I have been transported backWhoa. Just, whoa. Reading Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket)‘s latest offering, a searing YA break up story, I feel like I have been transported back in time to my high school days*. Is there nothing the man can’t do? Handler is in top form here, completely inhabiting the head space of his smart, angry teenage female narrator, Min Green. There isn’t even the hintiest of hints of the author who brought snark and irony to contemporary children’s literature. His sharp words are well tempered by Maira Kalman’s bright illustrations of all the relationship relics Min has included with her epic break-up letter.
The book, while about love, is fueled with lots of rage. Min is smart, clueless, and completely heartbroken. Her narrative is breathless and feels like a cross between a diary rant and literary stream-of-conscious writing. The dialogue, as recalled by Min, is awkward and uncomfortable and is therefore spot on. Handler’s teenagers do not talk like the kids on Dawson’s Creek, or even the kids in a John Green novel, who are authentic, but loquacious. These kids say the wrong thing, stumble over their words, and are spot-on depictions of teenage awkwardness at it’s best (or worst?). The juxtaposition of such literary narration and banal dialogue was fascinating.
I loved Min’s friends, who throw theme parties such as a “Bitter Sixteen” party in which all the food is so bitter it is basically inedible. I loved Min’s mild hero-worship of Ed’s older film-student sister, with whom she huddles in the stands at Ed’s basketball games and learns to cook with in their warm, cosy kitchen. But the section that sticks with me the most is when Min takes issue with the fact that her ex-bf and his friends thing of her as different or special, and then lists all the insecurities and fears that she feels make her, in fact, embarrassingly average. This rant made me cringe, ache, and left me feeling raw.
My feeling is that people will have strong reactions to this book: you will love it or you will hate it, but it will definitely get under your skin and force you to feel something strong one way or the other. It has already received 5 starred reviews, but you can expect even more big things from Why We Broke Up: it deserves it....more
I am in love with this book, which falls under my favourite category, Poignant Coming-of-age Story. Cameron Post is the mother of all coming of age stI am in love with this book, which falls under my favourite category, Poignant Coming-of-age Story. Cameron Post is the mother of all coming of age stories. I have been unable to stop talking or thinking about since I first read an advance reading copy in September. I have thrust it into the hands of everyone I know who loves books, whether they’ve read YA before or not. The Miseducation of Cameron Post transcends YA. It holds it’s own against adult reads such as The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle, Goldengrove by Francine Prose, and classics such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Obvious parallels are made to to Annie on My Mind, and while part of the reason I love this book is how honestly it deals with a young girl coming to terms with her homosexuality, this book is more than an issue book.
When 12 year old Cameron Post’s parents are killed in a car accident her first feeling is relief; relief that they will never know that hours before she was kissing a girl. But when her conservative Aunt Ruth comes to look after Cameron, this relief disappears and instead Cameron learns to hide things about herself, like her attraction to girls. But then beautiful, popular, and talented Coley Taylor comes to her high school and against all odds, the unlikely pair strike up a close friendship. Just as Cameron thinks their friendship will develop into something more, her secret is blown out of the water and Aunt Ruth sends her to a sexual conversion facility in order to “fix” Cameron once and for all. It is here, in this unlikely place, that Cameron finally learns to grieve her parents, finds a circle of true friends, and ultimately comes to terms with herself.
So much goodness here. First of, all the subject matter is important and dealt with in a way that is never sensational but honest and emotionally authentic. I hate books that talk about sex and sexuality without actually addressing it. Why skirt the issue? Teens especially need insight, reassurance, and information when it comes to sex, so why confuse the whole situation with vague euphemisms? Cameron Post is not one of these books- it has some of the most honest observations on sex and sexuality I’ve ever come across in my reading in both YA and adult fiction. Much ballyhoo will be made of the fact that the author visited a sexual conversion facility undercover in order to accurately portray Cameron’s experience, and indeed that is an incredible story, but at the heart of the matter, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is an incredibly well-written and moving book with many literary and reader-ly merits.
At 336 pages, this is a big book, but I would have read 200 more pages of emily m danforth‘s glorious writing if the editor felt it necessary. I was instantly sucked into the hot, dusty world of Montana in the 1990s. Once you start the book, all you want to do is read it, partially because you are so invested in Cameron as a character, and partially because danforth’s prose is so magnetic it’s hard to look away. She takes such care crafting Cameron’s world and the people in it, that months later I can conjure up images of even the most secondary of characters in my head. I also appreciated how even the reprehensible characters are subtly fleshed out in a way that didn’t necessarily make me forgive them, but shed light on their decisions.Writers of coming-of-age fiction take note, this is a book to love and learn from!
Because of the sophistication of the book, I really do feel it could be shelved in adult fiction, but I’m glad that the YA world can claim this masterpiece as its own. It’s not dense or challenging to read and I wouldn’t hesitate giving it to a solid, 13+ reader. Some teens may be daunted by its size, but after a few chapters they’ll be so invested I doubt they will notice or care. This is a book people will read again and again in their lifetimes. I’m attempting to think of more comp titles, but to be honest there is nothing quite like The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Look out for this one- expect it grace many 2012 best of lists; it certainly is at the top of mine.
Fall makes me want funny books. Something about the onset of months and months of cold grey weather and seven thousand layers of clothing makes me craFall makes me want funny books. Something about the onset of months and months of cold grey weather and seven thousand layers of clothing makes me crave a good belly laugh. If it can come in the form of a YA book, even better.
Enter Vicki Grant.
Vicki Grant has been writing funny books for years now. Her last novel, Not Suitable for Family Viewing, in addition to receiving many accolades, won over the hearts of thousands of children in Ontario who voted for it and earned Grant the prestigious Red Maple Award this May. In Betsy Wickwire’s Dirty Secret, Grant returns with her trademark wit, breezy style, and new lovable characters.
Betsy Wickwire is having a hard time. After she catches her best friend in the middle of a not-so-innocent kiss with Betsy’s boyfriend, she eschews her old life at the centre of the in-crowd in favour of moping and anonymity. That is until she meets Delores Morris, a quirky fashionista and budding entrepreneur who coerces Betsy into starting up a cleaning service with her. Suddenly Betsy has a job, a new friend, extra cash, and a possible love interest. Plus snooping in other people’s affairs certainly has an uplifting affect on a girl. But Dolores isn’t quite what she seems and Betsy comes to understand that while everyone has secrets, some are more painful and detrimental than others.
The pacing in this book is key. Grant is smart not to dwell in Betsy’s woe-is-me attitude and instead plops her right down in the middle of a new adventure. I very much enjoyed snooping into other people’s lives with Betsy, and I’m sure teens will, too. Grant could have sailed through this story, creating a simple, feel-good, funny piece of teen chick lit (complete with a sexy/nerdy love interest), but instead she builds something interesting and weightier, adding layers about identity and friendship that bring Betsy Wickwire’s Dirty Secret to a whole other level, one that will no doubt be noticed by readers and awards committees. A great read for lovers of contemporary realistic fiction (think Tish Cohen, Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, Maureen Johnson), 12+....more
This is a departure for Hahn, but she employs her excellent pacing and atmospheric writing to this fictionalized true account of a small town murder.This is a departure for Hahn, but she employs her excellent pacing and atmospheric writing to this fictionalized true account of a small town murder. In her afterword, Hahn discusses the origin of the novel, which is based on the shooting of two girls in her home town. The facts of the case are similar, but Hahn is careful to point out that the characters and their responses are fictional.
The majority of this book is written from the perspective of Nora, a sensitive and curious girl who s worried about a lot of things: her height (too tall), religion (she is not as enamoured with God as perhaps a Catholic should be), boys (will any ever like her?), and her future (her parents can’t afford the art college she dreams of attending). After her friends Cheryl and Bobbie Jo are shot on their way to school, the tone of her worrying changes completely.
Mister Death’s Blue-eyed Girls is not a traditionally structured narrative. While it feels like Nora’s story most of the time, it is really a collective examination of the aftermath of a horrific event. Hahn includes chapters from the perspective of the killer, the accused boyfriend, and diary entries from victims Cheryl and Bobbie Jo, and Charlie, Nora’s maybe love interest. The result is a creative case study of a how murder effects a group of teens, only not nearly as clinical as that sounds. The book is full of nuggets of wisdom and truth, wrapped up as big life lessons and small life lessons. In some cases, Nora’s moments of enlightenment stem directly from the murders, but other moments are the kind of thing that occur to all teenagers at some point (how far should I go with my boyfriend, my parents aren’t perfect, maybe my best friend and I are growing apart, etc). For these reasons, it is a near perfect coming of age story (which readers will know is my all-time favourite category).
Hahn’s sophisticated but accessible prose is well-sculpted and brings 1956 Maryland vividly to life. I love this time period and Hahn does a great job making this bygone- and at times more innocent- era relevant for contemporary readers. Some people may find Nora too earnest, but that didn’t bother me. Some of Nora’s thoughts were so personal and honest I found myself cringing, because I remember having those feelings (or writing them in a diary) many years ago and the thought of someone reading them makes my skin crawl. YA narrators tend to be jaded/edgy or earnest/naive, and truly earnest YA narrators are harder to come by. It feels at times that YA novels are praised for being edgy when there are plenty of readers out there who appreciate a quieter, less rebellious narrator. This is not to say that Nora’s actions or thoughts aren’t controversial or without a streak of rebellion, but at her core, Nora is an average girl thrown into an unfortunate and difficult situation.
Despite the tragedy and Nora’s depression, which Hahn so convincingly depicts, I did not find the book too heavy or without hope. There are lots of moments of friendship, first love, parties and dances. The balance between the happy and sad parts is what makes the book so effective. I think this is a remarkable work from an author who I may have previously pigeon-holed as a great ghost story writer. While there are certainly scary bits, Mister Death’s Blue-eyed Girls does not fall under the ‘scary-as-escapism’ category (ala The Old Willis Place or Wait til Helen Comes, both Hahn books that I love) but is a psychological exploration. Readers who enjoyed The Miseducation of Cameron Post (emily m. danforth), Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson), and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)will enjoy Mister Death’s Blue-eyed Girls. This is a special book and I thought it was a sophisticated and beautiful way to pay homage to the young victims in Hahn’s past...more
Anna Dressed in Blood delivered everything I wanted and more.
Reading this book felt a little bit like stepping into the world of Buffy the Vampire SlaAnna Dressed in Blood delivered everything I wanted and more.
Reading this book felt a little bit like stepping into the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in the best possible way. You have a somewhat reluctant but efficient slayer (Cas) who falls in love with the most powerful ghost he has ever met and is doomed to kill (Anna). The slayer is befriended by a meek but loyal witch (Thomas), and there’s even have a Cordelia type (Carmel), who is drawn into their circle. There are lots of differences of course, and Anna Dressed in Blood is much more than a Buffy rip-off, but fans of the show will definitely appreciate the world Kendare Blake has created.
Blake is an assured writer who is comfortable enough in the genre to take some interesting liberties. This is a ghost story that could also easily be classified as horror. Blake’s style is very visual and there are a number of gory scenes I’m not likely to forget soon. Anna Dressed in Blood, in her more demonic form, is especially memorable. Not to mention that her moniker is the best ghost name of all time. It’s probably very wrong to wish she was a real ghost story, but a small part of me wishes she was, the same part of me who played Bloody Mary at sleepovers in grade 6.
Our hero Cas is a bit of a bad-boy, ne’er-do-well type, and he knows it. He uses his dark looks and appeal to charm his way into the hearts of girls to find out the information he needs about the ghosts he hunts. He is devoted to his craft and his witch mother, and tries desperately to keep other people from getting drawn into his dangerous lifestyle. Something about his voice (defeated smart-ass with a heart of gold) reminded me of Cassel in Holly Black’s Curse Workers trilogy, another book set in our world with a layer of supernaturality infused for maximum reading enjoyment. Fans of Shadowed Summer for Saundra Mitchell, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson and of course, Buffy fans, will love this book....more