Eighteen-year-old Ben Wolf has a terminal illness--this he tells us right off the bat. But when will he tell the rest of his friends, family, and his...moreEighteen-year-old Ben Wolf has a terminal illness--this he tells us right off the bat. But when will he tell the rest of his friends, family, and his amazing new girlfriend? In his quest for a "normal" year, Ben has the least normal year of his life. And Chris Crutcher is kind enough to share that year with us through Ben's voice.
Don't let Crutcher's glib dialogue and Ben's smart-aleck comments deceive you. This is a heavy topic. But as I heard Crutcher say in a keynote address to the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators not long ago, if you as a writer are going down the tragic road, you've got to go just as long down the comic road--and thankfully, he does just that. Through Ben, we get to know a cast of small-town characters, each with his or her own secrets, some as heavy as Ben's. How could you not love Ben's long-suffering father, who lovingly cares for his bipolar wife? Or Coach Banks, who has returned to this podunk high school after fleeing it years before? Or Rudy McCoy, so haunted by his past that only Ben really comes to know who he is? This is not an author given to lovingly crafted sentences, but one who writes people who live and breathe and sing off the page. Is this a sad novel? I shed tears, but it didn't depress me. It reaffirms life and love. We should all be so lucky.
Maybe you've heard that all of Crutcher's books have been banned or challenged, and Deadline is no exception. For those of you with delicate ears, be on the lookout for the f-word and the s-word. They do appear. There is some premarital teen sex presented about as pristinely as you could hope for. And yes, sorry, but teens do utter opinions in this book that may offend some conservative, pledge-allegiance-to-me sensibilities. You've been warned. But unlike some other reviewers, I didn't find this book to be a political tract. To me, it was about a boy who, having nothing left to lose, finally lives. So much of the time, we stifle the opinions of young people. We discard them, slough them off, silence them. Ben Wolf is not to be silenced. God bless him for that.
One other point: The book's got a lot of football in it. I don't know anything about football and don't want to. I have no interest in the Super Bowl or even the commercials that air during the breaks. And yet, I found even the footbally parts of this book compelling. And anyone who knows me knows that only a very gifted writer could persuade me to read anything about this sport, much less make it compelling.
Read the first chapter. Then see if you can put the book away. Go on, I dare you.
Why only 3 stars, when the other books in the The Dark Is Rising Sequence got 4 stars? That's a tough question to answer--not because I don't know the...moreWhy only 3 stars, when the other books in the The Dark Is Rising Sequence got 4 stars? That's a tough question to answer--not because I don't know the answer, but because I hate to downgrade a classic, particularly when I've enjoyed the other books more than this one. But objectively, I have to say that this was a book I slogged through in parts. It was light on plot and heavy on Important Events.
Will and Bran, who we've met in earlier books in the series, are charged with preventing the Dark from rising. As emissaries of the Light, they must find Erias, the crystal sword, and unite it with the other symbols/weapons of the Light. To do this, they travel to the Lost Land, where they spend, in my opinion, entirely too much time. This is where the story dragged for me; it's just too tiring to journey with them as they encounter one unlikely yet Portentous Artifact after another. I couldn't keep up with where they were--first they're on land, then on horseback, then on the river, then in a carriage (I may have the sequence wrong); they're in the City, then heading for the Castle ... I just felt the whole journey could have been shorter, and I was more interested in how the Drew children were faring.
That said, I loved the final confrontation between the Light and the Dark. It was a satisfying ending to the series, just a little too long, in my opinion.(less)
It's 1996. The invention of Facebook is years away. You get a new computer, download AOL (remember all those free CD-ROMs we got in the mail?), and se...moreIt's 1996. The invention of Facebook is years away. You get a new computer, download AOL (remember all those free CD-ROMs we got in the mail?), and set up an email account.
And there's your Facebook page--15 years in the future.
That's how this story begins, told from two points of view--Emma and her once-best friend Josh. Josh likes Emma--I mean, likes Emma--and Emma doesn't know who she likes. Once they start reading about their futures, everything changes.
This was a fun, easy read, and I enjoyed it. The story was compelling, and I certainly wanted to see where it would go, and the writing was serviceable, if not memorable. But I felt it could have gone a bit deeper. I wanted a little more Twilight Zone, and a little less Twilight. In other words, there was more romance than there was chills up your spine, isn't-this-weird kind of stuff. But that's okay. I'd still recommend it. Just know what you're in for, and what you're not.(less)
It saddens me to read some of the reviews for this marvelous novel, and as I Tweeted to the author, clearly some people just don't get it. I will say...moreIt saddens me to read some of the reviews for this marvelous novel, and as I Tweeted to the author, clearly some people just don't get it. I will say that to appreciate Imaginary Girls, you have to be the kind of reader who is okay with not having a story fully explained and tied up in a neat bow. It's a literary novel. It makes you think. No one's leading you by the hand here.
But what Nova Ren Suma does so very well is lead you just far enough.
It's one of those stories that I hate to say too much about for fear of selling it short. In a way, it's a mystery/suspense tale: 14-year-old Chloe goes to a party at the reservoir with her 19-year-old sister, the luminous Ruby, who everyone loves and admires and lusts after. Bragging about Chloe's swimming ability, Ruby declares that Chloe could swim clear across the reservoir if she wanted to. So Chloe, always eager to please, sets out to do just that.
This is hide-your-eyes time. It's pitch-black, Chloe can't see where she's going, and she's running out of strength. It's a recipe for disaster. But somehow, just as she's ready to give up, she comes across a rowboat in the middle of the reservoir. She's saved, but someone else is not. Inside the rowboat is a dead girl--a classmate of Chloe's.
From there, the novel turns surreal. Is Chloe's classmate really dead? How does her death affect Chloe and Ruby? Why is Ruby so untouchable, and how does she get everyone to do what she wants? The story of their sisterly bond, the picture of this little upstate New York town, the mystery, and the writing itself--the fantastic imagery, the way the words flow like the ripples in the reservoir itself--spurred me on to finish this novel in a couple of hungry gulps. It recalled to me, a bit, Alice Hoffman's mastery, but really, this is all Nova Ren Suma. There's really no one like her, in the young adult genre or anywhere else.
As anyone who reads my reviews knows, I don't hand out many 5-star ratings. This book earned it.(less)
What a marvelous read for fantasy lovers! Upper-middle-graders will love the detail Kit Grindstaff has used to create the world of Anglavia, a country...moreWhat a marvelous read for fantasy lovers! Upper-middle-graders will love the detail Kit Grindstaff has used to create the world of Anglavia, a country held in the grip of an evil ruling family whose power manifests itself as a choking Mist that blankets the land. But when the youngest member of the family, Jemma, realizes she’s not like the others, everything starts to change.
Readers will quickly identify with 13-year-old Jemma, who has a strong heart but doesn’t always do everything right, and she is well supported by her friend Digby and even occasionally by members of the family she flees. One of the most appealing aspects of this book is that characters aren’t always what they seem, and an easy label of Good or Evil doesn’t fit everyone. Grindstaff creates people with nuance, which, apart from making them three-dimensional and interesting, delivers a great message.
The plot moves along at a breakneck speed, making this beefy fantasy seem much shorter than it is. Packed with details and a unique world, The Flame in the Mist is a rich, satisfying read that delivers genuine scares. Both middle-grade readers and young adults will love following Jemma’s adventures. (less)
From the Goodreads synopsis: Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s inf...moreFrom the Goodreads synopsis: Being the only Nightmare at Arkwell Academy, a boarding school for magickind, and living in the shadow of her mother’s infamy, is hard enough for 16-year-old Dusty Everhart. But when Dusty sneaks into Eli Booker’s house, things get a whole lot more complicated. He’s hot, which means sitting on his chest and invading his dreams couldn’t get much more embarrassing. But it does. Eli is dreaming of a murder....
In The Nightmare Affair, Mindee Arnett has created a unique, interesting world that exists right inside our own. There are no wasted pages here. Right away we’re plunged into Dusty’s world as she uncovers a murder plot and struggles with her affection for two compelling heroes. The pace is fast and the characters are interesting. For all their powers, they seem like real, regular teens we can relate to. Arnett’s easy-flowing prose makes this a real pleasure to read, and Dusty is the kind of heroine I love to read about—daring and brave, but also flawed. The story takes an unexpected turn that I didn’t see coming at all, though it felt natural and right. This book is a fun, compelling read that begs for a sequel—and rumor has it that’s just what we’ll get. (less)
How is it that a novel that illustrates a brutal practice can be one of triumph and hope? How can one recommend a book about human poaching to childre...moreHow is it that a novel that illustrates a brutal practice can be one of triumph and hope? How can one recommend a book about human poaching to children?
Easy. Just read Tara Sullivan's GOLDEN BOY and you'll see.
In this stunning debut novel, Habo is a 13-year-old Tanzanian boy with albinism. As such, he is in constant danger, because witch doctors in that country pay top dollar for body parts of such people. And Habo is hunted by just such a poacher. Habo's journey from frightened child to a boy who takes control of his own fate and creates a new future is a stirring tale no matter what the circumstances, but his specific situation ratchets up the tension in the story at the same time it horrifies the reader in her comfortable American living room.
This is Sullivan's great triumph: that the story which seems so far removed from us can feel so real and immediate. Instead of dwelling on gruesome details (as one could), or getting preachy about what needs to be done to stop these atrocities (for which one could be excused), Sullivan personalizes Habo's story. I had not even heard of this horrific problem in Tanzania, and I've never been to Africa. But I could identify with Habo all the same. He feels isolated in his own family; foreign in his own skin; desperate to find a place of his own in the world. These feelings are universal, and Sullivan brings them so expertly to life that I forgot I was reading about a foreign land. Habo was not just a symbol of suffering; he was a friend.
Young readers are the best audience for such a book. They will be motivated to help, to change. And they will see a little of themselves as well. The next time they judge someone by his odd appearance or her isolation, they might remember Habo and act differently. I know I will not forget him.
DISCLAIMER: This review was written after reading an advanced reviewer's copy (ARC) kindly loaned to me by the author. I received no compensation for the review.(less)
The last book of 2012 for me, and a great note to end on. I hate to sound clicheed--because this book ended up on so many "Best of" lists--but it trul...moreThe last book of 2012 for me, and a great note to end on. I hate to sound clicheed--because this book ended up on so many "Best of" lists--but it truly is a fantastic read. One might ask if the subject matter alone--a love story about two kids with cancer--is in itself ripe for greatness. But quite the opposite is true. There are so many pitfalls, so many ways such a novel could go wrong. It could be maudlin; it could be pithy; it could be just ... nice, but not great. But if a writer writes about people, not diseases, not prototypes, not archetypes, then greatness can shine through. That's what John Green has done. And it doesn't hurt that he is gifted with the written word itself, the creation of prose.
So yes ... one of the very best books I've read in this, or any, year.(less)
How lucky was I to be able to read Alex Lidell's brand-spanking-new novel just before its debut! While weighing in at just over 400 pages, Lidell's ta...moreHow lucky was I to be able to read Alex Lidell's brand-spanking-new novel just before its debut! While weighing in at just over 400 pages, Lidell's tale of a splintering fantasy kingdom with a female cadet striving to prove herself at its hub actually races along. The worldbuilding is swift and sure, not overburdened with needless detail but brimming with verisimilitude. Heroine Renee de Winter, her training academy, and even the gladiator-like battles unfold in cinematic detail and color.
Lidell draws us into the story with Renee's determination to equal her fellow (male) students at the elite academy where she's training to defend the Crown. But the story quickly ripples out from there as various crime factions threaten the kingdom's new monarch. When those closest to Renee get caught up in the violence, she has no choice but to defend them.
I marvel at the writer's ability to draw the various groups so carefully without bogging down the story. The action never pauses, yet somehow Lidell finds time to bring the characters to complex life as they struggle between their consciences and others' expectations. Fast-paced, well written, with plenty of fight scenes and just a hint of possible romance to come in future sequels, THE CADET OF TILDOR is great fun to read.
Disclaimer: This review was based on an advance reader's copy (ARC). (less)
Lovers of sci-fi and suspense will get lost in Imogen Howson's debut. From the first page, the reader is drawn into Lissa Ivory's strange affliction:...moreLovers of sci-fi and suspense will get lost in Imogen Howson's debut. From the first page, the reader is drawn into Lissa Ivory's strange affliction: constant headaches and fits of searing pain that doctors can't--or won't--fully explain to her. But soon Lissa discovers that her symptoms are linked to those of a girl she never knew existed: her twin. That's when the running begins.
A Doctor Who companion once described their adventures as "an awful lot of running," and that's what we see in Howson's novel. Lissa and her sister are pursued through the dazzling world that Howson draws so well, the planet of Sekoia, only one of many that humans have colonized in this version of our future. The details of this world are precise, yet don't overpower the story. I loved how I was able to picture with such clarity the places and technology that the twins encounter.
The book pulls you swiftly along, pausing only long enough to develop the characters and keep you caring about them. Lissa deftly (and sometimes not so deftly) juggles her own feelings, her new sister, and figuring out who she can trust to help them to safety. This is a wild ride of a novel with a satisfying conclusion but plenty of room for sequel(s). I can't wait for the next book!(less)
Justina Ireland's riveting debut is based on a fascinating and unique idea: The Furies of Ancient Greek mythology have possessed young Amelie, feeding...moreJustina Ireland's riveting debut is based on a fascinating and unique idea: The Furies of Ancient Greek mythology have possessed young Amelie, feeding on her pain and rage so that she can join them as their vessel of vengeance. While the concept sounds like a hook that can't live up to its possibilities, Ireland manages to create a character in Amelie who is as strong as she is vulnerable, and a story that takes more than one surprising twist. As Amelie struggles to overcome the Furies--and faces her own role in their destructive path--she also discovers she's falling in love with someone for the first time.
I love the interplay between Amelie and the crowd she hangs with at her new high school. A mystery is woven into the fabric of this book as Amelie searches out an evil doctor worthy of her vengeance and her schoolmates turn out not to be everything she'd assumed. In trying desperately not to alienate her new friends, Amelie ends up uncovering their truths while she tries to hide her own.
While this is not a story for the squeamish--Amelie is a killer, although it's hard to feel sorry for her victims--Ireland handles it in a way that leaves the reader aching for the characters who want to set their lives right. She is complex, well drawn, and interesting, and the love story that grows out of her newfound attraction is anything but standard. The suspense is high, the writing taut, and the ending satisfying. Teens will love VENGEANCE BOUND.(less)
If you're looking for a book that grabs you from the first sentence and never lets go, this is the book for you. While the premise promises a good dea...moreIf you're looking for a book that grabs you from the first sentence and never lets go, this is the book for you. While the premise promises a good deal of angst--17-year-old Angie blames herself and her classmates for her best friend's suicide--the journey through the story is remarkable for not wallowing in despair. Angie begins the story by playing detective; she works to discover who had decorated her friend's locker with the word SLUT, pushing the girl over the edge. Angie wants revenge, but as her investigation uncovers secret after secret, she begins to wonder if it's not herself she wants to punish.
Pitcher is a master writer. Angie, who serves as the novel's narrator, is often raw and unflinching in her views of the situation, and her voice comes off as pitch perfect. Playing counterpoint to Angie is Jesse, who is widely despised as a cross-dressing gay boy but somehow manages to rise above his tormentors. But everyone in this story has something to hide, and the pages fly by as Pitcher explores one after the next, highlighted by excerpts from the dead girl's diary. The author's pacing and prose make this a lightning-quick read as the action catapults toward the climax at high school grad night.
Readers will appreciate the true-to-life nature of the characters, their interactions, and Angie's emotions as she copes with what she discovers. Redemption can come from sorrow, and sometimes sorrow just is what it is--unbelievably hard. No preachy lessons here, just a wise exploration of the human heart.(less)